Tab Tries: Rugby

Cambridge is probably the only time in our lives we’ll have even the most daunting extracurriculars subsidised and on our doorstep

| UPDATED activities Cambridge extra-curricular foolishness Pembroke Rugby the tab waterloo

I was inwardly regretting my foolish, foolish decision to take up the oval ball.

I had got through three years of Cambridge education without breaking my neck and was cursing the decision-making process that had led me to throw caution to the wind and take up rugby. I looked up and realised my internal cursing was moot point – there was a rhinoceros-shaped man charging towards me.

I remembered the advice of the University Rugby coach, giving away his time to help ensure beginner College players were safe: “Get low, look at his shorts, commit.” Somewhere in the back of my legs power shifted, I moved forward, my arms were ready.

Too late.


A weakened Pembroke player recovers from the heroic effort. This is not me.

I felt as though my spine had been through some sort of vicious aircraft turbulence. The world was dizzy. I rolled away and looked to the side. The other man was on the floor, the ball being viciously contested. I’d sort of tackled someone. It was more like a trip, to be honest, but I wasn’t going to concern myself with the technicalities.

The enemy wave flowed forward again, breaking all the time, usually on our forwards. When a ruck (the bit where a tackle has just occurred and everyone is fighting over the ball) developed I went forward and tried to do my bit pushing and shoving. I was still mildly bewildered, both by the tackle, and by the whole sport. War analogies came easily to my head. Whenever the field paused for a scrum it was as if the pause was for an exchange of tank fire.

A man broke through the line, and once again I found myself face to face with a chunky and aggressive specimen. My esteemed Tab colleague, Eddie Spence (no relation), was somewhere in my peripheral vision. He wouldn’t get there in time. I had no choice. I hurried forward and prepared myself to be a mere speed-bump in the way of the Mercedes human.

Afterwards, having cleaned the mud off my body, and while nursing the bruise on my face, the bruises on the rest of my body, some of which only appeared days later, my sprained wrist, and my broken toenail (I kid you not), I came to a surprising realisation. The whole affair (or game, rather) had simply been enormous fun. Why is this? Why is the pain worth it? Why do so many in Cambridge, both men and women, spend their weekends taking hits like this?

Worth it, though.

Of course, as I have discovered in subsequent matches, the pain is not as bad as the first time. Rather as with football, but perhaps even more so, one factor must be the camaraderie. By the end of the match it is only a moderately large exaggeration to say that I looked upon mere freshers I barely knew as brothers, or rather, brothers-in-arms.

Perhaps that was the telling element. Perhaps the Victorians were right, and there really is a small part of all of us that wishes we had been at Waterloo. Most statistics show that violence of all kinds, in Britain and abroad, has generally speaking been in decline. Maybe rugby is a way for us to rediscover some of the earlier human within us, within a controlled environment, with a referee. Maybe that’s why it’s so much fun.

Despite all this, however, I am still pretty useless at rugby, but the really sad thing is that if I hadn’t stayed for a fourth year I quite frankly would never have given it a go. It would have remained in the ‘untried’ pile right up to the end. We all have our extracurriculars, some of which we carried over from school, and some of which we took up as freshers.

Positivity at lunch. The scars didn’t last.

A jump across extra-curricular fields, as the Tab #1 BNOC Chivers made when switching from journalism to Union, is rare and difficult for anyone only on a three year degree. The thing is, though, I genuinely think it’s worth a go. I used to mildly sneer at people here who tried to be everywhere and do everything.

But now I realise I will never be in a place where so many activities that are so subsidised. And now I want to try everything.