This weekend would have been the start of the 2019/20 Schools Rugby season in the UK, this week would have been one of huge excitement, nerves, the sense that anything could be achieved by anyone.
The annual President’s Cup at Esher RFC would have taken place on Friday, the traditional starting point of the season. Sure, it’s a pre-season tournament, but with many of the top sides in the country often attracted to it, it tends to be an amazing early chance to check out who might be looking good for the year ahead and what new ideas we are likely to see.
Instead of all that excitement and anticipation though, and tales of the summer’s tours, we must still sit and wait. Some are launching into a pre-season of sorts, others partaking in the RFU’s Ready4Rugby idea, many others turning their attention to non-contact sports such as cricket as we all try to find our path towards ‘normal’ in this new COVID world.
Opinions on when and how we should get back to rugby are easier to find than pigeons in Trafalgar Square, and they vary from ‘we should be back right now’ to ‘let’s write of 2020/21 altogether right now’.
In reality, though, they are pointless. It is one of the rare situations in life when all we can do is simply sit and wait and plan, what we want to happen matters little, what can happen and can happen safely is the only relevant fact. The time to critique it will come, but later.
We can only hope that it is soon though, as what would have been the start of the season approaches the thoughts of what might have been are at the forefront of the mind, the sense of feeling desperately for those pupils that might be missing out on the most fantastic experiences of their school careers.
Take Saturday, Warwick were due to host Uppingham. Warwick the Schools Cup finalists last year and perennial heavy hitters hosting and Uppingham side that enjoyed their best season in over a decade last year. It would have been a huge game for both, full of intriguing story lines – would Warwick be in the sort of form again that could lead to Twickenham, will Uppingham upwards trend continue or was last year a high point?
Those sort of stories were to be everywhere, but more important than that we the individual player-by-player pupil-by-pupil stories, the ones you do not necessarily know unless you are a part of the school. The centre that toiled through the lower XVs as a young teen but who enjoyed a stellar pre-season and a surge in confidence and has broken into the 1st XV for the start of the season. The prop whose academy let them go as a sixteen year old who is now out there with a point to prove and after a couple of games has the academy knocking again.
The countless other players for whom simply pulling on the shirt is and experience and a memory that will last a lifetime. The feeling for every single player of all of the sweat, blood, and sometimes tears, in training and pre-season finally coming to fruition as you run out onto the field together with a common goal and purpose.
School sport and school rugby is a precious commodity, for the vast majority it is the high-water mark of your sporting ‘careers’, it means something. People feel rightly proud, there is pressure, there is fun, and most of all there is a camaraderie and spirit that is, quite simply, special.
The start might not be this weekend, but we can all hope that someday soon the start will come. When it does it will be all the sweeter, anticipation will be higher than ever, support fuller than ever, and our commitment to cover every emotion of the season is firmer than ever before.
Schools rugby won’t be starting this weekend, but when it does it’s going to be great.