It was pouring outside. I took a sip of my favourite local blend of coffee black. My thoughts started meandering again down memory lane, back to old Raffles Hall at Nassim Road during one similar downpour one evening.
“Calling all rugby players! Calling all rugby players! Please assemble at the field for practice now”, resounded through the corridors of the guys dormitories. We were being summoned. It was surely pouring then, as now, and as always a prelude to rugby practice. I guessed our captain had some sort of heavenly connection to be able to call forth rain for each and every practice. He was hell of a mean captain with a wet sense of humour.
“Come on, Captain. Don’t you have anything better to do? Are you a sadist or nut case or what? You want us to get pneumonia. The field is definitely flooded by now”, we cursed silently at our imaginary Captain.
Reluctantly, we donned our jersey mighty proud and filed onto the field in front of the patio to warm up, and yes, in the rain. We were all in black, almost like the New Zealand All Blacks, almost. Diehards claimed hall spirit in the face of adversity. Yeah, right, and I was born yesterday. More like, we needed points to stay back in the Hall next year.
We then jogged to the already flooded IE field along Dunearn Road. “Everywhere we go, people want to know. Who we are, where we come from? So we tell them. We’re from Raffles, mighty, mighty Raffles. R A F F L E S. Raffles! Raffles!”, we chanted and panted till we reached the flooded field where we honed our skills and practised tactics.
Like Roman legionnaires of old, we first arrayed in forwards-backs battle formations. Strong forwards steamrolled like jaggernauts while agile backs weaved like springboks in unison. We charged forward maintaining possession of the prolate spheroid ball through lateral and backward passes, to gain ground and to score by grounding the ball in the in-goal area, a touchdown or try. We could also score from conversion kicks and drop goals over and between the goal posts.
For defence, we practised safe tackles and tactical scrum collapses. We always closed ranks to stonewall against attacks by the opposing team. We made sure every inch of ground loss was costly for the opposing team. Every charge must be challenged and stopped. No quarters given, expect none.
We also formed scrums and line-outs. We practised and practised, again and again, till we were covered in mud, sweat and bruises. Never in tears despite the agonising pain. Practice was always rough, tough and arduous. By day’s end we were most assuredly exhausted, both bodily and mentally, and our limbs were all rock and lead.
Bruises, sprains and muscle tears were common. However, blood was interestingly seldom spilled despite being a full contact game where bones crushed bones and flesh pressed flesh. A hooligan’s game no doubt but always played by gentlemen, I reckoned.
Unlike the all-brawn American football with all the protective padding and helmets, rugby is all-brain and strategy game without any need for protection. Further, unlike the more popular soccer, rugby is always played by gentlemen. Ergo, serious injuries are rare and far in between.
Well, I had my fair share of exhilarating tackles bringing down opponents and excruciating tumbles from being brought down. Just to brag a little, only I, being the hooker in the forward pack, bore the full brunt of the explosive pressure behind a scrum. Stop your naughty thoughts. Not that type of hooker who gained infamy along Geylang or Bugis.
In rugby, a hooker is the smallest and toughest son-of-the-gun with sharpest wit and nimblest feet in the rumbling forward pack. Let just say, he is the key man in the midst of a scrum, to hook or manoeuvre the ball into his fly-half’s hands with his feet. Of course, he eats the most grass if the scrum collapses.
We were a tight pack, bonded in camaraderie, forged through victories and defeats. Such fond memories flooding back so vividly. I enjoyed the game. I loved the game. I played the game. I came out unscathed or unscarred bodily. Yes, no brain damage too.