By Austin Zheng (14A01B)
A light drizzle fell over the stadium, but it did little to dampen the spirit of the players. Time and again, St. Andrews had bested them, and the Raffles ‘A’ Division Boys’ rugby team was out for vengeance, roaring their battle cries with grim faces and blazing eyes. This was, at its heart, a clash between the Saints and the Rafflesians, a grudge match between old rivals.
RI started the match and lost no time in launching a powerful offensive against the Saints, cutting off their attempts to struggle past the advancing line by sending them crashing to the ground. Unfortunately, while the team managed to clinch a penalty, their shot missed the goal, and the lightning alert siren granted the Saints a temporary reprieve.
After the short break, the Saints started the kick-off, but our line of defense held firm as we quickly regained possession of the ball. Even as our opponents tackled our players, we pushed them back, with the captain Matthew leading the charge. The team soon got another penalty kick, and this time, their aim was true, spurring wild cheers from the Raffles supporters as RI gained an early advantage, leading 3-0.
Our goal, however, had galvanised the Saints, who reorganised and consolidated their ranks. They put our team on the defensive, edging dangerously close to our goal line. After a grueling effort, the team managed to slowly reverse the Saints’ gains, bringing the match back to the midfield. The match grinded to a deadlock, with the ball changing possession with every passing moment, but with neither party able to capitalise on the opportunity.
Eventually, the Saints, being the more desperate side at this point, broke free from the deadlock, bulldozing their way through the pitch. Our team’s hasty, spirited defense fell short, however, as the Saints’ attack proved too incisive, winning –but thankfully missing– a penalty kick. Keeping up the pressure, they continued to blitz through the field, forcing a dramatic scrum right in front of our goal, bringing supporters from both sides to their feet. With a combination of grit, dexterity and sheer power, we managed to hold off the Saints, booting the ball back up the field and denying them a chance at our goal.
Throwing, battering, grappling, bashing, locking, shoving, tripping and head butting. Bruises, cuts, falls and sprains. This was war. It was possibly only the referee’s whistle for the half-time break that reminded us that this was also a game. The teams trudged back for a well-deserved rest, gearing up for the second half of the match.
The Saints led an early charge this time, scrambling to level the score. Their efforts finally paid off, with the Saints equalising after a penalty kick. Our team was evidently exhausted, but there was a resolute glint in their eyes. There was no way we would throw away our early lead and allow the Saints to win. Yet our adversaries were on fire that day, quickly reversing our counteroffensives to threaten our goal in a matter of minutes. The impasse of the game’s first half had faded away, with the match entering a whole new level of speed and ferocity.
The Saints launched wave after wave of attacks, crashing against our defense. Finally, they found a gap in our line, prompting a solitary Saint to sprint over a full third of the field to score a precious try. A successful conversion brought the score to 10-3. The goal was not without its controversies, however, as the referee had allegedly allowed the Saints to maintain possession of the ball despite them apparently dropping it.
Nevertheless, the pressure was on Raffles now. The Saints seemed indefatigable, surging against our determined defenders to make another attempt at our goal. Undaunted, we fended them off and spearheaded some deadly charges of our own, turning the tide to put the Saints on the defensive. There was wild energy in their onslaught as they fought through scrum after scrum, wrestling right before the enemy goal in a reversal of the first half. The Saints blunted our offensive and brought the fight back to our half of the pitch. This was an epic tug-of-war, just that we were pushing instead of pulling.
Then –through the tussling and tumbling, through the reckless rampaging– the sharp shrill of the referee’s whistle. The game was over. The Saints had won by the agonizingly close score of 10-3, beating us by a single try. The Saints supporters streamed to the field as one to celebrate their victory. It was an exhausting, exhilarating battle, with both sides giving it their all.
Our team was slumped in disappointment after the match. Some players were crying. Such was the strength of their feeling; such was the meaning of the game. Never should we underestimate the emotion and intensity of sport. But they were not forgotten, they were not abandoned, with our valiant, valiant heroes receiving a standing ovation from supporters of both sides for their herculean efforts. They did not let us down; they did the school proud. What we remembered was not the loss, but the fight.
Rugby has been called a ruffian’s game played by gentlemen. Perhaps that is because the teams, at the end of the day, are able to shake hands and acknowledge each other’s tenacity, ability and hard work with silent respect. Next time, we will avenge ourselves. Next time, we will defeat the Saints. For now, though, let us remember –and celebrate– what is truly important: the courageous persistence, resoluteness and sportsmanship of our ruggers.