It’s been a long time coming.
For weeks the Boy has been positioning himself in space at the end of the line, pausing just to chat to the spectators and occasionally dancing into play. His increasingly frustrated calls for the ball mirror every Welsh winger on every weekend on every ground in history. Then something happened on Sunday.
The omens were auspicious. He had been issued with his Team Socks, classic hoops of Oxford and Cambridge blue, proudly pulled on and reaching his upper thighs. Our team were short. The mighty Under Sevens were missing a couple of slightly older lads who play together in school. Lovely rugby boys, who just haven’t yet worked out that passing to a team-mate – not just a mate – is part of the game just as much as dogged individual possession. They will, under the gentle tuition of the superb coaches: family men and rugby men, steeped in the game and endlessly patient. But at the moment, out in the threequarters – as measured in height rather than position – touches of the ball normally come few and far between. When they come, as they did on Saturday, a chap has to make the most of them.
By a miracle, the ball came down the line, and landed in the little chap’s hands. Holding the ball for dear life, dancing around in the style known in our living room as “slinky hips,” stopping only in surprise after a sidestep that his tags remained attached, he put his head down and sprinted for the line as if it contained a pic ‘n’ mix counter. Line crossed, ball down, crowd cheered. The beaming smile, half joy and half incredulous disbelief, was pure sunshine with a toothy gap. Gareth Edwards knew no greater glory, JPR himself sipped from no more heroic cup of victory.
When it happened again two minutes later, he positively danced back to halfway.
The hat trick came by accident. The annals of the game will record that the opposition line formed perfectly, but with the innocence of U7s, the doughtily diminutive defenders stood just behind the goal line. Play restarted. The ball was passed. It landed in The Boy’s hands. He looked around to pass, heard the paternal shout from the touchline, turned with surprise to stare at the line. He leaped forward like an elfin gazelle to ground the ball on the whitewash. The shock of the defenders was matched only by the surprise of the scorer as The Try was awarded. Rugby Lawbook: £4.95. Having a referee for your dad: for once and once only, priceless.
There he is in his father’s coat and his late great-grandfather’s scarf. A proud day.
But also a day of bitter-sweetness. The game had started with a minute’s silence. It’s a scene that we saw up and down the country last week as Wales and the valleys of South Wales remembered their own: it felt like a family remembrance because it was. As the cloudy sky glowed greyly and the wintery wind whipped across uneven pitches, dozens of little boys and girls of 7, 8, and 9 years old stood quietly together in solemn lines as we remembered 116 children of the their age and another generation, destined now always to be young, who’d been beginning their own half term in a village close by. On the silent touchlines last weekend there were few mams, dads and coaches without a watery eye as we thought of families like ours, with kids like ours, and the teachers who died protecting them in Aberfan.