On 'tickling': 'I had to find new angles from which to punch him'
BEING university rugby players, we decided to combine our love of sport and learning and developed a complicated rugby concept known as 'tickling'.
At one stage in Lincoln, as captain of the college team, it fell to me to implement this new concept and so I lined up the perfect guinea pig for our experiment.
One of our forwards at the time was a player from deep in Southland farm country, who shall remain anonymous.
Suffice to say he was a tough b*****d, a rugged farmer's son who ploughed a second furrow as a useful amateur boxer. But despite being rugged and talented, the player had a knack of mentally drifting in and out of games, which could make the difference between winning and losing in a tight game.
He was the perfect candidate to be 'tickled'.
So, in the next game, I waited for the first signs that the bloke was drifting off into happy land and immediately went into action. I waited for a scrum and, from behind, landed a sweet left hook to the side of my team-mate's skull.
"Jesus!" screamed the suddenly alert forward. "Which one of you b*****ds punched me in the head?"
"Dunno, mate," I replied, captain-like. "But, to me, it looked like their hooker," pinpointing one of the opposition's key players.
For the next 10 minutes, the player was a like a prototype Trevor Brennan, going clean mad looking for the supposed perpetrator.
He climbed up on rucks, ferociously contested every kick-off, tackled like a demon, and, generally, terrorised the opposition.
Then he'd drift off again ...
To get a full match out of him, I probably had to punch him about four times a game. But that presented me with a new problem – I constantly had to come up with new ways of disguising where the blow had come from. And changing the angle of attack sometimes had the undesired result of being too effective: I often connected too sweetly with his face, resulting in the odd black eye or broken nose. At those times, it was best to be behind the guy, not in front.
Luckily for me, he never copped what was going on. At least not while we were team-mates.
Years later, at a team reunion, he confronted me as to why it was that, every time he played with me, he seemed to get injured. The mystery deepened when, after leaving university, he stopped getting injured during rugby games.
My ability to lie to his face evaporated and, in the spirit of comradeship, I confessed to being the culprit behind his woes.
"Mate," I said, "I'm sorry," hoping that we would be able to laugh about it.
After all, it had happened years before. I don't know if he ever forgave me because, almost as soon as my admission of guilt had left my mouth, he went for me and I spent the next hour of our reunion being chased around the car park. I found the kind of speed any All Blacks winger would pay money to have.