"They're going to beat you-and you are going to make the earn it": The aftermath of their first hard rugby trip.

The sun shines down from the sharp blue and white skies, down on a huddle of tired rugby players.

The scrum half’s soaked jersey weighs more than he does.  The fly half’s face is half-mud, half exhaustion.  This tired team of 10-12 year old kids have one last game.  We got them up at 5 am, drove 3 hours through storms, and played our first 2 games rucking through and hopping between islands of Fresno mud.

2016 Kickoff Tournament at Sunnyside High School (Fresno, CA)

2016 Kickoff Tournament at Sunnyside High School (Fresno, CA)

One last game.  Our last opponent is huge.  Our opponent isn’t full of Santa Cruz kids – they are a team of faster, larger rugby players from rugby families who know what they are doing.

And they have my kids next.

We missed some tackles all day, but fewer than the week before.

We got to the rucks slower than we should have, but got to them more quickly than the week before.

We bunched up too much, but not as much as the week before.

In other words, they were playing proper rugby as proper ruggers, not just as kids.

But yeah -- our progress is rewarded by a match in the sun-spackled muds against the Rhinos.

The kids’ parents are spread throughout the sidelines, stoking their kids up while steeling themselves for one last match against a team who spent the day stiff-arming and high-stepping through the competition.  The kids themselves are looking at the other team, wondering aloud – “We’re playing them?”

The Clovis Rhinos (in White) vs the Santa Cruz Redhawks (in Red). 

The Clovis Rhinos (in White) vs the Santa Cruz Redhawks (in Red). 

I have visions of kids, frustrated.  Kids, not only missing tackles, but losing badly.  Kids and their parentswatching that bad loss; being discouraged from the game, from the 5 am to Fresno, from the rain, from the mud, and having a long drive back home, driving away from rugby to another sport.

We huddle the kids and rip the bandaid off before the other team does it for them.  “Guys, forget them”.  The kids don’t, but they look at me anyway.  “We’re all buddies, right?”  Nods around the circle.  The buddy system is huge for rugby – have your buddy, ruck over for him, don’t let him down, vouch for his alibi.  “That’s great because I’ll be honest – these guys are going to beat you.  Badly.”  I nod to the scrum half.  “You’re going to have more tackles in this game than you have all year.”  I nod to the fly half.  “The rest of your face is going to be covered by mud, which is good because it’ll hide the bruises you get during the game.”  He smiles.

“So yeah – they’re going to beat us.  But they aren’t going to destroy us.”  I look up at the blue sky, which the clouds are starting to smother once again.  I look at the paddies of mud.  “This day couldn’t get any better.  We’re going to run, tackle, do what we’ve been practicing.”  If I were better with words, I’d say this band of brothers starts today, is here today to take on adversity head-on together with your mates.  That life is forged in the good as well as the bad.

So.  The kids lost by a lot – a whole lot – but not by as much as they could have.  They got some tackles in, and even had a few phases here and there.  Frankly, they’re relieved the day is over, and they’re ready to flee home with their parents.

“C’mon guys” – I pull them together for one final huddle.  The sun still obliges, and we have a final jog to the posts for a team picture.  They earned a breather and a smile, a pizza and a soda pop, and a picture of kids being ruggers and then being kids again.  My wife and kid are ready to drive home, but I don’t want this rugby day to quite end yet.  But it does.

And on Monday, they were back for more tackling drills.  The kids are still in it, the parents are still in it, and more rugby Saturdays await.  It’s an amazing world with kids and parents like these.

“These kids are going to win.”  I point across the pitch. “But we are going to make them PAY for that win by playing RUGBY. Make them work hard for this win.  Who’s with me?”  I think I remember some cheers.  The kids know the rest of the weekend is only one game away.  We hit the pitch, the game starts, and they lose by a bunch.  I think I yell more than I should have, and the other coach agrees.  I think, “That 5’10” kid needs to get off of the pitch”, and the ref obliges.  I think, “I know what tackling drills we’re going to practice on Monday…”, and the game eventually ends.

So.  The kids lost by a lot – a whole lot – but not by as much as they could have.  They got some tackles in, and even had a few phases here and there.  Frankly, they’re relieved the day is over, and they’re ready to flee home with their parents.

“C’mon guys” – I pull them together for one final huddle.  The sun still obliges, and we have a final jog to the posts for a team picture.  They earned a breather and a smile, a pizza and a soda pop, and a picture of kids being ruggers and then being kids again.  My wife and kid are ready to drive home, but I don’t want this rugby day to quite end yet.  But it does.

And on Monday, they were back for more tackling drills.  The kids are still in it, the parents are still in it, and more rugby Saturdays await.  It’s an amazing world with kids and parents like these.

Redhawks after a great day of rugby!!!

Redhawks after a great day of rugby!!!

Dollar Beard Club-Take care of your BEARD. 

Dollar Beard Club-Take care of your BEARD. 

About Brian: Brian Schnack is a Iowa native, Santa Cruz resident working in production management in Silicon Vally and currently Buttermaker-ing for the Santa Cruz Redwhawks U-12s. He's played across positions and teams since 1990, most proudly with U of Iowa, West Point, London Welsh Occie, Paxos, (RIP), Mission (RIP -cursed) and Vagabonds (Back Bay/Army) Old Boys. You can babble with him on twitter vis @theschnack.