Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Worcester Years Part IV

That moment had finally come - my first team debut.

The glare that once kept me awake at night had taken a shining to me and he wanted to bring me into the fold.

I'd played all my Waratah and Saturday rugby at 10. 1,120 or so minutes worth honing my skills and developing my game.

Another Gary Dipple's injury meant the 10 shirt was empty, so Cush shifted the whole backline around, moved Sam Brookes to fly-half and started me on the wing.

It was the beginning of my temporary role as WSRFC's kicking back - and I hated it.

The journey up, and indeed back from, Sheffield escapes me but I do have a couple of memories of my big day.

In the changing rooms before kick off as Ben Hoyles was giving his final orders, I scrambled around desperately to find somewhere to throw up my breakfast. 

I could only find a big, black bin. And I had to share it. Not the greatest prep.

On the field I did what was expected of me from the boot, but Brookesy decided to bring me into the game a bit more.

About 20 minutes in we had an attacking lineout in the Sheffield Hallam half and my fly-half turned to me and said: "Japan."

That's a dummy switch with 12 and then crash the blind-side winger up. Me. 11st dripping wet.

We won the ball at the front of the line, off the top, perfect dummy switch and then I carried into their entire back row, who swallowed me much like a second-year Tom Shepard swallowed his cheese sandwiches.

But the game will be remembered for one thing - the fight.

A scrum erupted as Andrew Murphy and John Clarke turned some poor front-rower's face inside out, and as the mêlée spread, I got a shove in the back from Stuart James Vincent.

He started punching people from behind, so I followed suit. The only way to fight.

Tom Shepard returning to his home county remembers it well: " It was a typical northern day at the Michael Vaughan Cricket Academy, and the tradition of having an annual dust-up there was to be started.

"I’m not quite sure how it came about but suddenly there was a flashpoint and a line of miniature fights broke out.

"SJV was being molested for his good looks by two players, the usually placid Sam Brookes and Tasty were busy piling into a Hallam prop and Murph was doing his best impression of William Wallace as he preceded to bludgeon at least three of the opposition.

"Tsangy says he helped.

"The person who was enjoying the brawl the most was Chris The Piss as he flitted between each group inflicting some chav justice on unsuspecting players.

"Luckily for Sheffield Hallam, Ed ‘The Punisher’ Cook was still jogging across from the other side of the field before the referee finally broke up the fight, otherwise an air ambulance may have been needed."

It would be the beginning of me establishing myself in the first team, but before that, I had a bit of history to make for the Waratahs.

Playing against our most fierce rivals, a customary scrap broke out.

Somehow, out of 30 blokes on the pitch smashing seven bells of shit out of each other as well as Lee Thomas adding the occasional boot and uppercut from the bench, the referee managed to pick me and Tom Baxter out for punishment.

Two red cards. And here, Renard's Magic XIII was born.

The Worcester Years contacted Ian Renard and Matthew Roberts, but when we went to press last night, they failed to comment.

Therefore, this story will have to wait.

As much as it might sound there was a first and second team divide, away from the field there was no such separation.

This is perfectly portrayed by the annual WSRFC Bowling Day.

By the time we'd left, this day had become sometimes more fiercely fought than some BUSA (fuck off, BUCS) matches.

My first one will forever be remembered for one of the biggest paddies ever thrown by anyone, ever.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you - Jonny Contact: "My shirt was made with my bowling name "curve ball contact" proudly displayed on the back.

"I had my two pints, got drunk, and decided I was a millionaire thanks to a HSBC credit card.

"I bought a gold pin from the pro shop to give as a prize.

"I can't remember who stole it however, being a ginger northerner, I didn't let it go as a joke.

"I threw all my toys out of the pram and went mad.

"Obviously this fuelled the rest of the lads, so after what seems like an age but was probably five minutes, I went to sulk on my own in the corner.

"I can't remember who started it but I would guess Pumba, Hemming or Cookie."

At this stage I'd like to plead the fifth.

Another event where the whole rugby community got boiled down in the social melting pot that is WSRFC is Sin Ball, not that I'd know anything about it.

Luke Milton and I had been told, I think by Sam Golding, that you get pissed quicker if you drink in a hot bath.

Apparently, you sweat so much that you become dehydrated and thirsty, so you drink quicker and it affects you more.

I equipped myself with Strongbow, Milts with Fosters and away we went.

Turns out he was right.

I don't remember getting out of the bath, but by that stage it would've been mainly urine seeing as neither of us left the tub having knocked back 10 cans each.

Allegedly I was so pissed in Sin I threw a middle-aged woman out of the way to get to the bar.
It transpired that woman was Andrew Cushing's wife.

Luke Milton, who remembers as little of the night as I do, said: "We were in the early beginnings of a blossoming, intimate, and at times highly homosexual friendship.

"So quite obviously, wearing nothing but a hat - babe wore a Fez, myself a traditional cricket cap - we sat in a bath and got stuck into a warm crate.

"Obviously we sang every rugby song going at the top of our voices, confirming my multi-national flat members' hatred of myself.

"The night before they had been woken up at 3am by Sam Brookes pulling babe around halls by his foreskin.

"Obviously neither of us got out the bath while we were in there.

"Obviously we both fell out the bath when we left it.

"Obviously we both went straight to Sin Corner.

"Obviously it produced pictures like this."

But away from the social scene, there was some seriously hard graft being put in to try and make the matchday Varsity squad.

One man trying harder than most after a shaky start to his WSRFC career was Mark Lowbridge.

He had flirted in and out of the social scene because he was still trying to make it with Gloucester (spits on floor) and their academy set-up.

He soon saw the error of his ways and was up to his nuts in training.

One weird Monday morning session was turned into a full-contact affair by Cush, and - shock horror - Lowbridge was prominent.

He recalls: "It was a cold damp wet Monday just after we returned from Christmas.

"The mood was tense, first team places up for grabs, and two sessions were to take place that day.

"Not a usual 7am fitness, instead it was a 10am full on contact session which felt like freshers v everybody else.

"After putting heart body and soul into the session we were told we'd be returning around 3pm to do a Andrew Cushing 'light session' this was another bone crunching full on bosh.

"Being the keen 19-year-old I was and looking to impress, I thought it be a good idea to sprint away from any support to meet a head on collision with 23 stone Watto and hard nosed northerner Jonny Contact.

"The outcome was a bad ankle I thought I'd broken it.

"Followed by the ever so supportive Cush's comments of ''If he wants to be an all black and die, then let him die".

"Cheers Cush.

"In the hospital whilst nursing a sore ankle it aspired my hand hurt a bit as well.

"Which to the nurses dedication was to x-ray that as well.

"A buy one get one free offer.

"What transpired was a sprained ankle nothing more and bost hand.

"When returning to campus feeling a little silly to "how's the ankle, mate, I could only respond "Ah sound it'll be right in two weeks."

"The second question of, "Why's your hand in a cast?"

That got, "Well, I broke that as well."


It warms my heart to think of him in hospital pointing at all parts of his body saying, "it hurts here, here, here, here, here, here and here."

Doctor looks, holds back laughter, and says: "Mr Lowbridge, that's because you're pointing at everything with your right hand. It's broken."

Some of us managed to pull through the sessions and made the squad, but this both a blessing and a curse.

Yes, we were all delighted to be selected, but there was a twist.

We had to dye our hair blonde and blue.

As freshers, we were not adverse to peroxide, but this time it went badly, badly wrong.

As bad as my hair looked, at least I was able to dye it back its natural colour.

Not the same can be said of Jonpaul McGrane.

I'm not sure if this has ever been made public knowledge, but if it hasn't, he had to find out eventually.

Seven years is a decent enough amount of time.

The days ensuing Varsity, while I was still laying in bed with what can only be described as AIDS from the River Severn, the rest of the boys went about returning their hair to its natural state.

The Bend, being the fucking moron he is, decided not to go for a brown, but a maroon.

He came out looking like an 82-year-old woman's handbag and although he persevered with it for a couple of days, the ribbing he was getting proved too much and he wanted to dye it again.

Myself and Luke Milton were heading into town, and he'd asked us to grab him some more hair colouring.

On the walk into town across Sabina Bridge, we both stopped in our tracks when we realised the power that had just been gifted to us.

There was still a blonde hair pack in the flat from our mass bleaching session, and there was still an empty pack of black hair dye I'd used the day before.

We took Bend's £10, put the blonde hair dye in the black hair dye box, and roped one of the girls into the prank.

When Bendy sat down in his chair in the lounge at Malvern Flat One, he thought he was finally getting rid of his hanging, maroon lid.

But it was only just beginning.

The red mixed with the blonde to produce a hideous salmon pink colour and as we fought back the tears, we had to express our disbelief that this black hair dye was turning his hair lighter.

A very aggressive phonecall to the customer service team at Schwarzkopf Hair Colour later, and we convinced the only way out for him was to shave it off.

"It's dead hair, Bend, it won't colour. It happened to me before - I had to shave it off."

So off he trotted to grab the clippers and get rid of the rest of the ridiculous hair he had on his head.

Little did we know, the amount of colouring had produced dozens of scabs on the back of his rock-shaped head.

To make matters worse, he was laughed into Tasty's BBQ that afternoon and was forced to take the 
Bic to it for a smoother finish.

Sorry, Bend.

Well, sorrynotsorry.

Luke Milton said: "In a display of team bonding that led Cush to say "you look like a bunch of cunts, make sure you don't play like a bunch of cunts" we had all dyed are hair various shades of blonde, yellow, ginger and orange.

"In the following days we set about returning our flowing locks of hair back to a normal shade of colour.

"We convinced him - this is where Gaz's Gavin Henson esq product knowledge came in handy - that the only thing to do was to shave it off.

"He did. He looked terrible.

"Crazily, we ventured over to the Tasty and Pumba house for a Thursday pre-lash.

"Poor Bend lasted five minutes before a blotto Watto was bicking his head.

"Thing is though, it really suited him."

This meant he went to Colours Ball looking like Barry the Baptist and his smaller body double Daz 
McAleese ended up on top of a table singing Champagne Supernova.

Anyway, back to Varsity.

On the bus there we got stuck in a cockload of traffic, which meant pissing in bottles - again, not the best prep.

Every one of the squad donned a beanie because Cush had no idea what we had done to our hair.

Once we took these off during the warm-up, a shrill blast came from the gargoyle, but it was nothing compared to the noise that greeted us as we walked out of the changing rooms.

That was something else.

It was impossible to bring yourself down after that to sit on the bench, so me and Milts patrolled the touchline.

It was a crazy game and discipline, as we had become infamous for, was not a strong point for us again.

Jonny Contact got sent off for gouging someone in open play and Tom Shepard served a 20-minute sin bin.

We'd scored a try through Ian Renard, who got on the end of a Stu Vincent break from a set-piece.

The issue was, they were playing on separate wings, so as Stu offloaded to his wing partner, he let out a "Renard, what the fuck are you doing here?"

Going into the last five minutes, we were trailing 13-16, and none of us expected to be put on.

But the inconsistent Andrew Cushing called me over and said: "You're going on. If we get a penalty - I want it over."

I warmed up and, shitting myself, entered the fray on the wing.

Within a minute, I could've won the game for us.

Ben Hoyles had wriggled free and was one-on-one with the fullback with me outside him.

Had he not been knocked out earlier in the game, he'd have probable passed it to me and I'd have strolled in from 40m with nobody else around, but he didn't know what planet he was on and ploughed into contact.

With a minute to go, we had a penalty 50m out.

I turned to our skipper Andrew Murphy and said I wanted to take a shot, he strained, looked at the posts and told me to put it in the corner.

It came to nothing, but as Gloucester cleared their lines, we were gifted one last chance to launch a counter-attack.

With the clock red, we worked our way into the opposition half and I took myself from the wing to stand-off in anticipation of a drop-goal attempt.

I wouldn't get a chance, because the referee blew up for a penalty 42m out between the 5m and 15m lines on the right hand side.

It was the furthest point away from the stand, but it was as if the crowd were stood under my nose.

The worst part was that I'd forgotten my kicking tee, so I had a makeshift one made out of a cone 
and a smaller tee.

Not a big deal to many of you - if you're a kicker - you'll feel my pain.

As I settled down having placed the ball on my home-made catastrophe, I could hear the Worcester half of the crowd try and hush the Gloucester half.

Shock-horror, they didn't oblige, and the PA announcer even started singing the Gloucester anthem.

It was just what I needed to help me focus.

I released my hands, stood up tall, one step back, five forward, head down and bang.

Straight through the posts from the moment it left the boot.

I didn't get a chance to turn around to gesture to the crowd, because I was swamped by my team-mates.

We may have drawn, but it felt like a win.

One moment in particular stands out to me in the aftermath of the game, which was in the shower, when Stu turned to me and said: "I'm so fucking proud of you. If there's any fresher here that deserves that, it's you."

I don't know whether it was the countless hours I'd put in kicking, the fact I'd come back after Cush told me to fuck off, the fact that I'd done whatever I was told at socials and kept quiet or that he just liked me - it was a good moment.

But I can't help thinking how much better that day and night would have been if we'd have won.

I'd never taste Varsity success during my time at Worcester, and it's still something that pains me.

Many will be in the same camp as me, which makes the current crop of students' achievements so impressive.

Delivering under pressure.

Winning when others would give anything to make you lose.

We never got that, and for succeeding, I doth my cap to you.

I look forward to you telling me all about it at Old Boys Weekend 2015.




The Epilogue

To the Prince of Wales Stadium in sleepy Cheltenham,
The stage was set for the ultimatum.
No points, no cup to lift, no relegation to fight,
Just the pride of beating the scum on the night.

Peroxide blonde - one to fifteen,
We never played dirty, but definitely didn't pay clean.
A yellow and a red for taking out someone's eye,
Jonny Contact left 14 men who for Worcester they'd die.

Renard found himself in no-man's-land,
But touched down to score in the grass, mud and sand.
My nerves were jangling when Cush sent me on,
But I entered the fray and my chance didn't take long.

"I'll have a shot, ref." as he pointed to the sticks,
"This is the last play, you better not miss."
My tested routine held when I needed it most,
Bang, three points, straight through the posts.

A memory I can re-live time and again,
When we all meet up now and then.
We all have our moments that we remember best,
But we all know the feeling of WSRFC on the chest.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Worcester Years: Horribly Beautiful

By now we'd settled into university life and friendships had been firmly forged. All the pre-September nerves were washed away and wondrous senior characters had started to ease the younger members of the gang out of their shells. Worcester Students Rugby Football Club had begun to tattoo itself on our very being - and it was great.

The Oxford English Dictionary reads:

            1. Causing or likely to cause horror, shocking.
            2. Very unpleasant.

But, if you stretch the word to its limit, just before it snaps and explodes into a thousand horrible pieces, it becomes the word beautiful. WSRFC mastered the art of taking the horrible so far that it transforms into a thing of rugged and resilient beauty. It could be seen in every member and in every social situation. Interaction with each other had become vulgar, alcohol abuse was by now horrific and the style of rugby we played mirrored our nature. Enforcers such as Ed Cook, Jon Drever, Andrew Murphy, Thomas Leigh, John Clark and Sam Watson et al meant that every team we came up against feared us. We were branded a horrible team by our opponents, which to us was beautiful.

Here's how the most feared enforcer of them all saw things, Mr Ed Cook said:

"The brand of rugby we played was horrible as you said, mainly because we weren't afraid to get stuck in and all the lads were playing for their mates. No one was afraid to have a scrap and everyone wanted to smash their opposite number - or anyone that came near them - off the park and into an ambulance."

Rugby had become the focal point of our university lives and we'd been told by several senior members: "You can either play rugby or you can finish your course in three years with a 2:1 - your choice." In the annual team photo of the squad the year before we arrived it was calculated that of the 52 men in the photograph - four of them graduated that year.

We'd committed fully to discarding our academic quests and concentrating on the rugby way of life. We took to the gym every day trying in vein to tip the scales past the 12 stone mark, we practiced our drinking whenever possible and trained tirelessly to try to impress Andrew Cushing.

Strangely, amid the furore of our new lives, a regular routine was beginning to appear. Every week started the same way. We would roll out of bed after a sleepless night, throw on some kit and waddle down to The Bottom Field. Every step of the way your brain would tell you "You realise you don't have to do this, you can go back to bed if you want." but somewhere lodged deep inside us all were Andrew Cushing's eyes dragging you towards the pain-forsaken hour that was about to ensue.

Cush had many tricks up his sleeve, but a personal favourite of mine was the '233s'. We knew that if he was pacing out in a curve we were in for an easy ride, and I got to enjoy the satisfaction of proving how much faster I was than Gary Dipple. Not only that, but we could expect to be a part of history. One cold winter morning Adam West ran 233m in 19 seconds flat. Usain Bolt's 200m world record of 19:19 bares insignificance really, doesn't it?

There was one session that everybody dreaded - the 40-minute run. Essentially, it meant running around the circumference of The Bottom Field for 40 minutes with your positional compatriots and the pace would vary as and when the patrolling, sadistic gargoyle decided to inflict more pain on us. I never really minded the challenge, mainly because it gave me the chance to show to everyone how much more of an engine I had than Gary Dipple.

I did ask Gary for his thoughts on being shown up morning after morning, but he refused to comment. It's not really surprising, it must've been very embarrassing for him - it's probably why he spent so much time on the bank passing the ball to himself.

However, others didn't share my tolerance of the infamous fitness test.

One man has never completed a 40-minute run, and that man is Jamie Tsang. The gruelling demands of the challenge were always too much for the front-row fresher and he started four runs - dropping out of them all with a curiously tight hamstring.

His take on it was:

"It was probably that I couldn't be arsed. I'm not saying I could have finished one, but after 25 minutes I just wasn't too bothered about completing it."

A vintage Jamie Tsang response.

In some ways, he was wise - another member of the front-row union very nearly died on a 40-minute run. Tom Lovegrove was a regular Waratah in his first year but on one fateful 40-minute run his playing days were almost abruptly ended, and his life. Twenty minutes into the run he pulled up, clasping his chest and gasping for air - he was having a heart attack (apparently). Thankfully, it was only a minor heart attack and when asked how long he'd be out for, he answered valiantly:

"Two weeks min."

What a warhorse.

The trials and tribulations of a Monday morning weren't confined to the front-row forwards. One of the football boys had started drinking with us and was convinced that footballers were fitter than rugby players. After a Facebook pressure-group was launched - something that would play a big part in our first year - he joined us for a Monday morning session. It was a 233 session and Jordan Nwachukwu was setting himself to show how much fitter he was than all of us.

He recalled: 

"I remember stumbling out of bed at 06:50. My kit was all ready as the lads warned my if I was late, I'd be sent away. I didn't really know what to expect - the arrogant footballer in me thought "I'm fit, how hard can this really be?" Oh, how I was wrong. I met the lads outside halls, who had faces even more miserable than my own and jogged to the bottom field to make sure we were on time, no one spoke. It was there I met Cush for the first time when he asked one of the boys who I was. Next came a barrage of abuse about being a gayballer and a few jokes starting to fly around about Megatron [Martin Misiko] not being the only black guy anymore - jokes that became all too familiar throughout my years with WSRFC. Whilst being introduced to the 'onside, onside up' warm-up, I kept hearing a lot of the senior boys mumbling:

"It's 233s."

"Look at the way he is striding out, placing the cones."

"I fucking hate 233s."

"The bald man was striding out a big arc across the bottom field. Someone explained to me what 233s were, to which I didn't think much of - an overconfidence that was soon to be extinguished. We were split into positional groups and, of course, I was placed with the wingers - cue more stereotypical jokes. We were the last group to go, Spud was whispering to everyone not to go too fast. I stayed with the front-runner all the way round and felt ok. The keen fresher in me wanted to show everyone how fast I was , so the next time round I decided to really go for it. Huge mistake. I finished and my chest felt like it was going to explode, coughing and spluttering and I felt like I couldn't breath. Before I knew it, we were off again. I was instantly behind my group and the fastest my body could carry me was a slow jog. After crossing the finish line, I carried on going straight under the 'piss tree'. It was here that I vomited everywhere and collapsed on the floor. I'd never experienced anything like it. I had unintentionally adopted the position the boys called the foetal position. It was in this position that I spent the rest of the session. I could hear the boys laughing:

"Come on, Prince, you've still got one more to do."

and "I think he might be dead."

I came out from under the tree once everyone had finished their last sprints. I experienced laughter from a lot of people, although some were clearly struggling themselves. My 9am lecture never saw my face that day. That session will forever live in my memory as the day I died during 233s."

I asked Prince for 100 words, he sent me 474 - stupid footballer.

When Cush decided the weather was too miserable, which for him would be -24oc, driving ice-rain, gale-force winds and a frozen field, he'd annoy the basketballers by taking us indoors. He'd decided that in our circuits, each player should be able to complete 100 press-ups, sit ups, burpees, ski-jumps or whatever exercise he decided to throw at us in the allocated minute. One week, the underarmour model that is Martin Misiko achieved this extraordinary feat - to which Cush said in amongst a racist slur:

"Well, you should be doing fucking 200."

After the session, half of the boys had the pleasure of going back to bed - but the rest of us were subjected to a whole day of lectures. In fact, the lectures were often more demanding than Monday morning fitness. I had the task of taking on Oli Grant in left-handed tennis under the crooked eyes of Malcolm Armstrong. Oli Grant had been given the nickname 'Giant', while his head coach thought his name was Pete Kemp. The lectures were held in the sports hall and I'd never seen a man sweat so much in all my life. Playing against Giant was a genuine health hazard as the court became a deluge.

Lunchtime, we'd congregate at Berry's and throw a chicken coronation sandwich down our necks before returning to our inconvenient academia. The afternoons were long and arduous as we fought our heavy eyelids to stay awake as some useless lecturer talked at us. By five o'clock we were free. Free to get some food on board before meeting for training again.

Monday evening training was a mixed bag. They were the most important sessions of the week where we did the bulk of our technical rugby work. Where were these sessions held - either Droitwich RFC, Malvern RFC or the old favourite in the dark on The Bottom Field. Cush was joined by his sidekicks Andy Reynolds and the one-and-only Tony Bevan as they put us through our paces in the dark. Looking back, it's astonishing to think that we ever won a game. Essentially, we trained on a gravelly 40m x 10m area of land, barely lit by poor street lighting. A particular favourite of Cush's was the tackling diamond, where players in similar positions would group up to work on our tackling techniques. Thankfully, my quartet of Guy Griffiths, Luke Milton and Lewis Joiner would give each other the eye and we'd run through things at 60% - it's the sensible thing to do. Meanwhile, those on the lower end of the brain cell spectrum were hammering seven bells of shit out of each other, namely Jonpaul McGrane and Tom Shepard. Each week it'd be a ruthless show of one-upmanship where the only winner would be the spectators as they held back their laughter watching the pair try to hospitalize their partner. This would lay the foundation of a relationship we'd come to know as 'The Row Bros' - a turbulent tag-team that shared highs and lows over the years.

With the long day seen to, we deservedly slipped on our glad rags and started a ritual that would become universally known as the pre-lash. The pre-lash comes in many guises and its purpose was to make sure that we were well oiled before heading into town, to make sure we didn't spend hundreds of pounds on a night out and more importantly to provide us with stories that will forever be shared.
By now, we'd started to be joined by senior members of the club - which served both to petrify us and keep us entertained. Ed Cook, the most feared of all the senior members, had become quite the regular on Monday nights along with Andrew Murphy and Sam Brookes.

Ed Cook said: 

"The Monday night pre-lashes were awesome. Your year brought some top lads to the uni. I think the other lads and I took it upon ourselves to sack off a year of Tuesday lectures in order to break you guys down, and then build you back up as a group of Worcester Rugby Lads. You boys were always up for it and always had a good turn-out for nights out.

"It was awesome seeing you boys crying, being sick on each other and smashing your own halls up - all for the sake of becoming legends of the future.

"I think in some ways the 'older' and 'more mature' drinkers wanted to carry on living like freshers and not accepting the reality of growing up and actually having to do something at uni. I think in some cultures this is known as 'Peter Pan Syndrome', although I may have just made that up,"

In the early days, the pre-lash of choice was Ring of Fire and it produced some golden moments. To list them all would take an infinite amount of time but the one that stands alone as the best moment of pre-lash history is Dave's Table. It was no different to any other Monday night, we'd all gathered at a pre-determined halls and a game of Ring of Fire was well underway. This is the night that Tom Shepard became Dave. He'd been in a foul mood all night because he was getting picked on for his choice of t-shirt. He changed t-shirts four times after each one he slipped on was berated by his friends, but he finally settled on one that he liked only for it to get covered in beer. He was out injured at the time with a shoulder injury and was the butt of all the jokes all night.

Tom Shepard relives the evening: 

"Well it all began with somebody pulling the "new rule" card out when playing ring-of-fire in giant's flat. The rule was that you could not refer to anyone by their own name/nickname but by the name they chose. I went for 'Dave' as it was easy for both me and the boys to remember. It became Angry Dave during the night for a while as whenever 'Jackanory' began it was usually about either my mother or gran. The table incident came around as Macca [Darren Macalleese] and Pubehead [Mark George] were trying to smash the small coffee table by either punching or head-butting it. I had grown tired of their failures so stood on a chair and proceeded to smash the table into about 1000 different parts. However, that meant there was more furniture to be broken. and so the video came into existence and the legend of 'Dave' came into being. But I can tell you that it bloody hurt, no matter how pissed I was and later in the year it was worse when Brookesy [Sam Brookes] had me diving onto the proper solid picnic tables outside the dive."

In the haze that typified a Monday night, how we got to this stage is unknown - but somehow, this happened.

Tuesday mornings were rarely witnessed by any of us. If it was, it was to try in vein to rid a hideous hangover. The choice of fizzy drink was vital, because anything that resembled anything that was drunk the previous night would lead to projectile vomiting. Cherry and Apple Tango were an absolute no-no as was Lilt and Orange Fanta.

Tuesday nights were a window for us all to impress as we all shared the same rock-solid slab of unforgiving astroturf in preparation for our Wednesday games. These sessions, starting at 8:00pm, were usually the first time some of us had seen the great outdoors after suffering in bed all day with a VK fuelled hangover from Tramps which didn't allow you to sleep but churned your stomach like a cement mixer.

The teams split, ran through their moves and set plays before calling it a night. Occasionally, Cush would bring us together to face each other in a controlled game of touch - a controlled game of touch which, inevitably, turned into a full-contact game. If you managed to get through the session without throwing up last night's kebab or getting tackled onto the sandpaper-like surface, it could be considered a resounding success.

The problems really came when our leader, a deaf West-Walian called Ian Rowberry, decided to issue us with items that needed to be brought to game the following day. The chaotic rush to piece together a costume or an ambiguous object to bring with us in order to avoid being fined was legendary - and perhaps not the best mental preparation for a rugby match. Neither was the traditional microwavable pasta Luke Milton and I shared on a Tuesday night, which accounted for twice our recommended daily allowance of saturated fats.

Fortunately for us, Tesco was open 24 hours on a Tuesday and we developed a civil partnership. We travelled down in three cars and as well as the six cans, bottle of port and whatever else the captain had requested, most of the convoy brought a dozen eggs. While the Loughborough Students RFC players would probably use the egg whites for a post-training omelette and the yolks for a nightcap, Worcester Students egged people on the way home.

Luke Milton's egging was legendary. He regularly hit the target from the passenger seat, be it on the bare chest of a girl walking with her boyfriend for a night out or the head of a cyclist - he'd always get his victim. There was one fresher who didn't attend the traditional Tuesday night Tesco run because he lived off campus, Guy Griffiths. He would retreat to his small, cave-like room to order his customary Dominoes pizza and meet us in the morning. On one Tuesday evening, we had an unusual amount of eggs left. Not wanting them to got to waste, we parked the three cars at the top of Comer Road and like a scene from Green Street we walked down the middle of the road tooled up with large free-rangers. As if by magic, Guy's window was open and 15 of us fired our eggs at and through the window. 

The following day, we were greeted with:

"Twelve fucking eggs I found in my room this morning. Most of them have cracked and gone down the back of my radiator. Twats."

Wednesdays were all about one thing - rugby. Depending on how far we had to travel depended on the state of us arriving back in Worcester. Before university, if we'd lost or if I'd had a bad game I tended to sulk, go home and not drink. This was not an option if you played for Worcester. Fines were dished out, songs were sung, penises were rated, binbags were vomited in, bottles were urinated in and some seriously good times were had.

When we made it back to the motherland, if we could still stand, we would venture into the dive for a social and then into town. 

Wednesdays were heavenly. So many things happened on these Waratah Days that it'd be impossible to do them justice in one chapter - so their time will come in later instalments. Cooky's Corner, Snakey-B, Renard's Magic XIII, Maligins, Initiation - their stories will be told.

Thursdays would be one long build-up to the RGS 'recovery' session and trying everything get yourself into decent enough physical and mental state to come face-to-face with Andrew Cushing again. These sessions were split into forwards and backs and it's safe to say the forwards had it tougher than we did. Cush's reasoning for this was that if the forwards were as talented as the backs then they wouldn't have to work so hard. I'm not going to argue with him. One of the highlights for the nimble-footed among us was watching the forwards take part in a live scrummaging session on the indoor sports hall floor. Each scrum that collapsed was followed by a collective cry of:


Nobody dared question the coach's logic, and it's probably for the best because there wasn't any.
Us backs were faced with much trickier assignments, like playing netball with tennis balls, walking around gripping the ball with one hand and Cush's favourite - 100 passes.

He would get us standing in a line and passing the ball like 1960s centres. The only thing that was missing was the swivel of the hips. Every single time he came to observe me he'd say: "No, you can't fucking pass. 12 down to 6 and across."

To this day I have no idea what he was trying to achieve by getting us to pass like sea-lions, but we all took it on the chin and waited for the hour to be over.

Without doubt, the hardest thing I ever had to do at one of these sessions is try to stop myself exploding with laughter when Ian Renard came dressed as an over-grown school-boy from the 70s. Luke Milton and I were injured and had to watch the session from the side. It was in the darkest of winter, but Renard decided the look he'd go for would be the black, loose-fitting vest; size 12-14 boys heavy cotton, brown rugby shorts; smart brown socks which barely made it over his ankles and trainers that were not only at least four sizes too big for him but wouldn't have looked out of place at the bottom of the lost property bin in school.

He looked absolutely vile and while he ran around the sports hall, angrily stamping his over-sized shoes on the ground, Milts and me were holding back an eruption of laughter with tears streaming down our faces.

Here's how Luke Milton saw it:

"Me and Gareth Davies were not training, probably due to all the tackling we get through. But, as keen freshers, we went along to one of Cush's legendary RGS Thursday night sessions. What we saw was Ian Renard in an ill-fitting vest, short shorts and hideous black trainers. He proceeded to run around in that stamping-the-ground manner of his and as Cush insulted and abused the participants, that's all you could hear were our high-pitched giggles. The more enthusiastic Renard got, the louder we giggled. It lasted the whole session."

The inevitable discussion came on the drive home from training which surrounded the question: "Are you going out tonight?" Having just recovered from a deathly hangover, it probably wasn't wise to go out drinking again, but when

came up on my phone, I knew I wouldn't have a choice. Sin was the venue of choice on a Thursday because it played 'trendy' music and black double vodka red bulls were £2.50. One fateful night, Luke Milton and I each spent £40 in an hour at Sin on nothing other than double vodka red bulls. My drinking partner woke up in the garage of a family house nearing hyperthermia. Lightweight.

The corner in which we gathered had unintentionally become the rugby boys' corner and should anyone venture onto our turf, they were told in no uncertain terms where they could take their custom. In the back right corner of the nightclub, giant men in their best clothes gathered to drink girls drinks and when they finished with their glass, would smash it against the wall. It was horrible behaviour, but it was beautiful.

For those who made it, the next stop would be Bushwackers where we'd act sophisticated in the champagne bar, drinking VK's, and the memories of the evening were slowly washed away.

In my first year, Friday was a non-day. A day of watching DVDs, sleeping, eating and waiting for Saturday to come. It was time that should probably have been spent studying, but we knew best. Countdown, Rugby-Golf and fajitas were far more important.

Saturday mornings would come around pretty quickly and before we knew it we were back in the rugby frame of mind again with a session on the bottom field. It would be a full-throttle affair with plenty of contact - the stuff a young, 12-stone outside half dreams of.

The problem was, freshers had games on Saturdays, yet we were still expected to take full part in fitness and contact with these enormous human beings a couple of hours before playing a match.
After attempting to tackle Jonny Contact for two hours, freshers were given the final ten minutes of the session off in preparation for our games. Cheers, Cush. Something tells me that these Saturday fixtures didn't mean a lot to our head coach. One week, Sam Brookes was playing on a Saturday and realised the squad selected had no backs on the bench. 

Brookesy bravely said: "Cush, we need some backs for the bench."

Cush promptly replied: "No you don't. If one of you get injured, you can fucking hop."

Saturday fixtures were treated the same way Jonpaul McGrane treated his lovers - get in, get the job done and get out.

We'd return to Worcester, tired and emotional from a heavy week of rugby and drinking and collapse into Malvern Halls to watch a film, play Rugby 08 or fall asleep. However, on the odd occasion, we'd treat ourselves to an impromptu session of gin-drinking and glass-eating. On one of these sessions, I had invited a couple of boys from back home up for the weekend. I genuinely cannot remember the incident, but Thomas Raymond Leigh was working that evening and watched the events unfold. 

He recalls the tale:

"I was working and Gareth Davies and a few lads were having a casual couple of beers. One of the visiting boys, Rhodri Morgan, was told because he was a newbie he had to keep up and despite sinking four pints he was still behind he was ready to blow. I was happy for him to spew but Luke Milton told him he wasn't allowed to. The newbie held as best he could but was too scared to move until Gareth Davies stood and opened up his joggers, allowing his guest to fill his trousers with around six pints of frothy, chunky Snakey-B. Any normal man would go home at this point, not WSRFC boys, he proceeded to sit in his spew filled pants for a good 40 minutes before deciding it was time to go home and pre drink further. 'See you boys, have a good night!' It's one of the best things I've ever seen."
We had finished our first term at University. We'd not learnt much about our area of study, but we'd learnt a lot about life and we'd never be the same again. We returned to our native corners of the country to celebrate Christmas with our families and friends, yet we knew there was a new family waiting for us in the heart of the UK in January.

The epilogue

Sunday comes around one time more,
After a week mainly spent on Bushies' dance floor.
It's time to rest up for Monday morn,
For then we shall rise for a session of scorn.

Malagins, Rum, VKs and Snakebite,
Still in our systems on Sunday night.
It stops us from sleeping, insomnia's no fun,
It's the Sunday night countdown to the 40-minute run.

Get through the session and try not to spew,
Andrew Cushing is always watching you.
A full day of lectures is the prize for our sweat,
But we look forward to tramps and ballbagged we get.

Tuesday is usually a hangover day,
Trying everything to make the pain go away.
The only known cure in times like these,
Is run-through on the astro into a Northeasterly breeze.

The frantic race to find six cans and port,
Which will all be drunk on the way back to our fort.
Washing our kit and ridding the boots of dirt,
Ready to look don the Waratah shirt.

Wednesday is all about rugby and booze,
Beer's good if we win, goes down the same if we lose.
In The Champagne Bar the drink hits the lips,
Before heading to Chicks for salmonella and chips.

The following morning is all aches and pains,
Hangover, knocks and a thumping migraine.
No use in complaining, there's training to fit in,
As well as taking over our corner in Sin.

The weekends descend into a smear,
In amongst the TV, rugby and beer.
The only thing that we know will come,
Is the Sunday night countdown to the 40-minute run.