Riverview’s Fiefdom Defended Against Coming Of The Kings (Blue Poles, Stubborn Tomatoes and Howling Carpets; A Rhyme For The Times)
St Ignatius College, Riverview vs. The King’s School; AAGPS (NSW) 1st XV Rugby, Round 4; Riverview No. 1; 28/05/2016
“The hosting team are lead through a tunnel of students by (in this order) a multi-rotor drone, a large flag bearing the Riverview emblem, the drummer, and finally a student wearing a discarded floor rug with teeth that it takes some deduction to realise is supposed to be a wolf costume.”
Report by Scott Gittoes
Exiting the M2 Motorway into Lane Cove is like stepping from a blizzard into a warm log cabin. The terror of Sydney’s arterial road network – a Jackson Pollack of multi-lane, eye-twitching anxiety – is now but the pillow-sweat of a bad dream from this bosom of expansive, rolling-lawn affluence. From here, the car itself seems to sigh and ease into a sort of mechanical canter as it moves along an ever descending ridge into the immaculately hedge-rowed suburb of Riverview, a horseshoe shaped enclave carved in the east and west by wooded creeks that flow to two sparkling boat-loaded bays of the Lane Cove River. It’s one gingerbread house away from a nursery-rhyme. At the horseshoe’s southernmost tip, behind sandstone pillars on a landholding that would make a feudal lord flinch, lies St Ignatius College, best known by the name of the suburb in which its not insubstantial acres reside.
Today Riverview is hosting rugby fixtures against The King’s School and with respective first fifteen sides both undefeated, the afternoon’s final fixture has a big red ring around it for those closely following the premiership.
A bass drum thunders through suburban avenues, washing out the avian cries and the whisper of wind-swept leaves. The repeated boom beckons your correspondent and all those about him, lemming-like, downhill. Riverview’s terrain (and not just the school but the suburb itself) sinks into a green basin that is the main oval of today’s contest. The first breaths of winter have recently brought rains and with tag-shoed feet churning the moist topsoil since the dew-sweeping slog-outs of the early AM, the oval has come to resemble a dill pickle slice, dark green on the fringes graduating to a paler, yellowing centre. The ellipse is divided in two; a rugby field closest to the western hill that rises up and under the university-scale campus buildings, and a soccer field to the east. Into the hillside is set a concrete-block structure roughly 15 metres square; canteen and change rooms. Recessed into the base of this building is an eight-row grandstand. White-shirted, dark blue-blazered students are crammed in there like rows of teeth set into a jaw. As the showpiece game approaches, they spill out either side onto the wet grass like thickening strands of spittle, roaring in unison when prompted. Teachers hover like anxious birds waiting to pick the gums of a yawning crocodile.
When Riverview’s first fifteen do appear, silence descends. They all but float down the hill on the autumnal breeze, between old gum trees, glimpsed but largely out of sight, before truly disappearing again into the change rooms behind the grandstand. The student supporters promptly organise themselves for the send-out. If one were in any doubt as to the coveted nature of the bass drummer role, maker of that near subconscious murmur that hitherto has themed the pre-game titillation, it becomes plain enough when the instrument is given to he who is preordained to thump its belly for the main game. The hand-over ceremony has all the quiet grandeur and gravity of a father receiving a blood- and placenta-speckled first-born.
The hosting team are lead through a tunnel of students by (in this order) a multi-rotor drone, a large flag bearing the Riverview emblem, the drummer, and finally a student wearing a discarded floor rug with teeth that it takes some deduction to realise is supposed to be a wolf costume. The visitors’ fifteen are released through a tunnel that is equally long but much leaner on fanfare. Playing strips are identical but for the varied shade of blue hoop on guernsey and sock. It’s all and only white and Oxbridge blues out there.
In the opening stage of sporting contests there’s a ghostly uncertainty that stirs somewhere inside most participants. In rugby, it’s present in those moments when the players, technically ‘playing’ but as yet awaiting first contact with pill or opponent – milling with clean uniforms on the fringes of rucks or basking in the backline breeze – find themselves unable to express their excitement, a little lost, and generally jittery. Some players get yappy, others jump up and down or rub their hands together. Some go quiet. The scientific name for this condition is nerves. Transitioning fully into a game is, funnily enough, where evenly matched contests can be won or lost, and today this phenomenon appears to be up for proving. Within three minutes, the visitors are on the receiving end of tries in either corner. The first is a mercurial kick and recover individual effort from Riverview’s right winger. The second germinates from some fundamental drawing and passing that creates space for a left wing who knows what to do with all that daylight and has the jets to act on his impulses. To steal a military phrase – and with all that bass drumming and bellicose war-crying it’s surely not out of place – Riverview has seized the initiative.
Following those first ten unconverted points, in what proves to be a consistent theme throughout the remainder of the fixture, the team conceding a try immediately goes on the offensive. It’s as though the players are expecting an even contest and are intent on honouring the script. King’s set up camp for a prolonged period inside Riverview’s quarter and leave with three points. Were it not for repeated infringements – albeit not repetitive enough for today’s official to reach for something yellow – King’s may have ended this stretch of honest toil with more. As it is, the score remains locked at 10 – 3 and will remain so for all but the last dying minutes of the half.
Some patterns have emerged. Firstly, it’s evident that the backlines are willing to play expansively, but their skill in execution, primarily passing, is not in step with their plans. Passes are lofted and frequently terminate below or behind the man. Perhaps it’s the greasy pill. Secondly, and possibly in support of the greasy pill theory (hereafter, the GPT), expansive forays are far outnumbered by hard, welfare-be-damned running at the advantage line, principally executed by hulking lock forwards and two fearless, fast moving inside centres, all of whom latch onto halve-fed shortballs with a bloodlust for metres. Last, and by no means least (and approaching absolute proof of the GPT), the offensive commitment at the gainline is similarly matched in defence and it’s here that the (greasy) pill pops out regularly in all directions like a cherry tomato under force of a blunt fork. And so it is that the teams spend the best part of the rest of the half trading blows in this fashion, mostly in neutral territory. That is until the visitors’ rangy fullback, who’s shown flashes of his deceptive speed – long legs taking slow-cadenced but yard-devouring strides – swoops on loose ruck ball to run untouched to the line for seven equalling points.
The twilight of a rugby game’s first half is another one of those ghostly periods in which things can – and often do – go haywire. Here the nerves are a problem in reverse; certain players shelve the excitement one or two plays early, assured of a job more-or-less done. It’s as dangerous, if not more, than those opening minutes. And it’s just as often here, in these fatigue-filled final seconds, that tight games turn. Indeed, in what proves to be the last play of the half, Riverview smell complacency and dump a heap of coal on the furnace. They get seven points for cunning, their right wing collecting a brace.
At halftime, relatives and alumni compare notes. They’re scattered across the western hill, donning oilskins or brandname outdoorsman jackets. Most wear caps. Behind them, ten or so men busy themselves on the grills. In the canteen, women serve the sweet stuff. And over on the eastern touchline, squinting into the lowhanging sun, middle-to-late aged old-boys talk commerce, mostly finance and real estate, or trade stories on their sons’ achievements. And when play resumes, they’re not afraid to wear their old-school-allegiances on their sleeves, boisterous but reverent.
Much of the second half proceeds like the first. That is, repeated one or two-off kamikazes at the gainline that end in audible collisions or else mistimed ball movement when it does go wide. In either case, the GPT is in full articulation and the ball develops a near-monogamous intimacy with the grass. Riverview’s flyhalf squanders a couple of opportunities to extend the lead off the tee (he ends the game with 2 from 7 attempts). Conversely, King’s take the only three points that are really on offer for them, their halfback knocking it over from forty metres to bring the visitors within four points and give them a sniff. But it’s not to last. The hosts shun a very kickable penalty, opting instead for the line, and one wonders whether it’s a decision born of genuine confidence or a kicker with an ever-worsening case of the yips. The hypothetical proves moot. Riverview apply more pressure, steal a defensive lineout a few plays later and cross for a try that is converted by the barest of margins. In step with the game’s theme, King’s are instantly and intensely on the attack. They do enough to cross the line but fumble the ball just before the vinegar stroke. Riverview close out a deserved victory and take their place unaccompanied and undefeated at the top of the table after four rounds.
As triumphant drumbeats hark across a picturesque pocket of Sydney, your correspondent takes a deep breath and ascends into the harrowing truth of abstract impressionism.
Match Day Burger Rating: 6/10
MDB Service Atmosphere: 6/10
MDB Cost: $8.00
Match Result: Riverview 24 def. The King’s School 13
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