Scotty Stevenson: Reckless abandon taught in the backyard

Damian McKenzie and the Chiefs were more than willing to fling the ball around against the Force. Photo / Getty
Damian McKenzie and the Chiefs were more than willing to fling the ball around against the Force. Photo / Getty

I blame my mum. She was the one who found the old cricket stumps and a plastic bat and ball in her garage this Easter.

She brought them all outside and handed the bat to my eldest son and the ball to me. She then disappeared under the pretence of some task or other and left me to bowl, over after over after over, until dusk settled, and dinner was ready.

My shoulder is aching, still.

Not that I'm angry. It was great watching my boy hit balls into, and over, the neighbour's fence. He made up rules - my favourite: "Dad, you have to bowl me out four times before it's your turn to bat." He swung at everything, which is exactly what he should have done. He didn't really understand why a catch was out, and I couldn't see the point in appealing.

We played on and chatted away about all-important seven year-old things in between balls.

I watched his eyes light up when he connected, and his shoulders drop just a little when he didn't. I thought about times like this with my own dad, when I was my son's age and my dad was invincible. We would sometimes convince him to play rugby with us on the lawn, and he would put on his old Matata club jersey and indulge us. They were the best afternoons.

He died three years ago this Easter, but we've covered that ground before.

I thought about him, though, while I bowled looping slow balls at my boy, and while he tried to manoeuvre the oversized bat into position to smash it over my head. And I thought about something else, something Force coach Michael Foley had said to me before the Chiefs towelled up his team in Hamilton on Saturday night.

We had stood on the sideline discussing the Hurricanes game from the night before and he offered this thought: "The thing about New Zealand teams," he said, "is there is always someone willing to have a go. It doesn't matter what the situation of the game is, someone will find a way to do something special."

"Something special" pretty much summed up the following 80 minutes, as the Chiefs dismantled the Force brick by brick and left them in ruins on the pristine turf of the Waikato. It may have been the most prescient pre-match remark ever made by a coach.

Yet, look around these New Zealand teams and you can't help but agree with Foley's outsider perspective. There's Damian McKenzie doing ridiculous things for the Chiefs, David Havili is growing in confidence week by week with the Crusaders, Blake Gibson tackles everything that moves for the Blues and Ngani Laumape scores tries for the Hurricanes. And that's just the new boys.

What about Charlie Ngatai, Lima Sopoaga, aron Cruden and Ben Smith? Or Elliot Dixon plucking kicks out of the sky and scooting off to score? It is an endless list of talent in this country and, if you'll excuse the social media reference du jour, all of them refuse to be shadows in someone else's life.

Is there one simple explanation for New Zealand's perennial production of outsized rugby talents? I'm not sure there is, but if I were to proffer one, it would be this: all of them had someone who took the time to teach them a couple of skills. Maybe it was a coach, maybe a sibling, maybe it was the old veteran in their local club team or maybe it was their group of friends who spent weekends down at the park perfecting spiral kicks or side steps.

Or maybe it was their dad, who found some time in the afternoon to chuck a footy around the back lawn and who told them not to worry when they didn't get the hang of it first time around so long as they kept practising.

I don't know. Maybe we should just thank the mums, who sometimes drag some old sporting gear out of the garage and are then quite happy to let you figure out the rest.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 26 May 2017 20:37:56 Processing Time: 598ms