This was going to be the biggest game of my life. It was the final game to clinch our undefeated season but it was against our archrivals, Nudgee. This game was the decider, as Nudgee was also looking to seal their season undefeated. After preparing mentally in the chapel with some strong words of wisdom from Father Gadd it was then off into the dressing rooms. We started out usual warm up. I tried to make it as if it was just another game, but in the back of my mind it wasn't just a normal game. It was the final game that most of the team would ever play for their school and also it was the first time that any of us had the chance to go through the whole season undefeated.
After the warm up it was time to get mentally prepared and psyched up. We had time for the final few minutes that the team had together before stepping onto the battlefield in front of the thousands of chanting supporters who timidly sat and waited. "TOKIO!" That was the last school war cry leading up to a game that most of us would ever do. We started the long walk to the battlefield where we could see our rival opponents standing sternly linked arm in arm. As intimidating as it looked, I'm sure that we sent shivers down their spines as we walked out to confront them for the toss. Each player firmly grasped their opposite's hand in subtle fury, trying to act like good sports but when it came to the crunch there were no mates in a rugby game. We were both playing to win, to win for ourselves, our team and finally our school.
After losing the toss this set us on the back foot with having to start the game off not running our favoured way that we had successfully done in all the previous games. But this was just a minor set back that we just had to deal with. My heart was pumping with adrenalin, like something was inside us just trying to burst out as the last moments went by, before the highly rated side Nudgee kicked off. The crowd was cheering accompanied by drunken old boys behind us when we ran the first ball up into Nudgee's front line racing towards us.
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All you could hear was the slapping of skins and the crunching noises when vital tackles were made along with team members screaming to organise what was happening. We were on the back foot metres from our try line as the powerful favourites Nudgee pulverized into our burly defensive line. But our already battered and bruised side could only hold them out for so long and gave away a penalty in close range for Nudgee's kicker to put three points on the board. Another set back with us being down three points halfway through the first half.
We had to start performing or our dreams would shatter, so with all heads up we took it straight back to Nudgee sacrificing what ever it took to get over that line. We ran and ran and ran but there was nothing we could do to get past that intimidating back line with various over grown Islanders staring deep into our eyes. We bruised the favourites with two penalty conversions which left the score at six to three at the half time point.
Sitting as a group listening to our furious coach Rob who accepted nothing but perfection yelling at the top of his lungs, I knew that he expected more from us and at times I thought he would rather be out there playing than coaching. We all had a drink, thinking about the game and no doubt putting together individual scenarios to what was going to happen. Mine was that we would find a weakness in Nudgee's back line and break through it in the dying minutes of the game but the unexpected was about to happen.
Both teams started the second half fresh as if it was the start of the game all over again. It was starting to get exceptionally personal. Bodies of desperate players were pounding into each other sacrificing what ever it took to obtain everyone's end of year goal that was a perfect season. Finally after taking desperate measures for our game success, we were awarded a penalty in kicking distance. This was the kick that would put us into a six-point lead and give us some breathing ground. Thankfully, I was successful in doing so.
But then inner rage possessed our five eight which resulted in him being in the sinbin for ten minutes. I was moved from half back to five eight to replace him. A member of the 3rd XV was subbed on to play half back. I hadn't played much of this position that year but I knew what I was doing from previous experience. I was lucky I knew every move back to front and could do it from any position but playing here put me under a lot of pressure, as it was a key position in the back line. I put all negatives beside me and carried on with the game. I was doing fine and missed putting my outside centre through a gap by the skin of his teeth. But then something happened that would haunt me.
Right on the half way line I was thrown a slow pass from the freshly subbed halfback. As I was watching the ball, all I could hear was the loud furious breathing of the Nudgee back line running at me with my life flashing before my eyes so I took my eye off the ball and looked at them which caused me to drop the ball and a Nudgee inside centre had a free run from half way score a try under the posts.
My head dropped. I felt like I had failed the team because of a stupid mistake. Standing under the post for an unmissable conversion in front, all I could see was a heart broken team. Some of us tried to stay positive but for the majority it was almost over. The score was 10-9 to Nudgee with about three minutes to go. We had three minutes to get a point that would satisfy our whole schoolboy rugby career. It was possible.
After battling with the victory thirsty team, it was hard but we wanted it more. I could see it in everyone's eyes. We were awarded a penalty on the half way line and had no choice but to have a shot or it was the end of the game. I took my usual steps and struck the ball as hard as I could. The kick was right on target and I cried out in victory, but the ball fell short into the hands of the opposition who failed to kick the ball out. Desperately trying to break through with no time left in the game, the Nudgee defence was too keen and was caught offside about 35metres out. It felt like God gave me a lifeline. As I placed the ball on the tee, my hands were shaking. The result of the game rested in my hands. I took a deep breath and pretended it was a kick that I had done thousands of times. After I struck the sweet spot of the ball I didn't look up from the ground, but from the gigantic roar I heard from the crowd I knew what had happened.
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