Took the boys to rugby training this weekend. We have only been once before a few weeks ago when my five-year-old had a go but my seven-year-old refused. That evening, my five-year-old came down with chicken pox so I was slightly leery about turning up again in case he had infected all of his playmates but I decided to brave it anyway. Managed to persuade both of them onto the pitch this time though my seven-year-old looked highly sceptical throughout. As soon as it was over, he came off and said: "I'm never doing that again. Ever." The thing is, up here, rugby seems to be one of the key ways the boys make those friends which last a lifetime. I do not blame my seven-year-old. He is probably wired like his mother. Admittedly, I never played rugby but the only time I went on a hockey field, I got ordered off it as a danger to myself and everybody else. At netball, I would actively avoid the ball. And, I can still remember what it is to try and hit a rounders ball while your team looks on resigned to the fact it is never going to happen.
My five-year-old is a different fish however. He managed to score four tries and whipped off a fair number of tags.( Below the age of seven, it is non-contact. Instead of ploughing each other into the ground, they make do with ripping off each other's plastic tags that hang from a belt around their waist.) At one point, I even saw my five-year-old hunker down with his hands on his knees, leaning over his body, for all the world as if he was about to do a haka. Sheer, muddy instinct. I talked to a father at the sidelines about why he thought rugby was such a good idea - apparently, it teaches boys sportsmanship. Duly at the end of the match, the teams cheered each other's efforts and shook hands. Average age - six. It is also, I suspect, about teaching boys to be men. Not just any sort of man. But the sort who will take a knock and carry on without complaint. Every now and then, one or other boy would take such a bump, they would spill a tear, a coach would have a quick look, perhaps wipe the tears away and play would continue. Made you proud to be British.