There is little about the game of rugby that is graceful. It is physical, fast and confusing. People are yelling things and throwing things and hitting things and everything looks painful. From the outside, it looks like chaos.
From the inside, it’s still chaos. But it’s a chaos that is owned, experienced, and learned from.
The opportunity for grace presents itself in the last three minutes of the game. Your team is losing by more than 56 points and down players. You know you’ve lost, but you’ve worked your ass off all game and are still having fun. You deserve the last three minutes of the game just as much as the other team does.
You are exhausted and stressed, and a little bit pissed, and a week ago had never even held a rugby ball, let alone thrown yourself head first at a woman running flat out with the ball tucked in her arms. If you let yourself think about your body and where it hurts, you might just lie down on the field and cry, never to get up again.
But you’ve learned one thing already: you are stronger and more powerful than you thought, and it feels amazing.
On the surface, rugby is complicated. There are a lot of rules and positions, fast-moving plays and this ball of humans bent over and pushing against each other. It often rains; the ball is a mess and your hair is a mess and the field is a mess: a reflection of your university student life, everything is messy.
But even messy rugby can be spectacular rugby, and 80 minutes of rugby-induced tunnel vision shuts up the messiness going on outside the pitch and reminds you that you, too, are spectacular.
The women I have shared the field with for the last four years have what it takes to lose with grace; our last game of the season was nothing if not a perfect example.
We play old school, pick-it-up-and-run-’til-you’re-hit-then-pick-it-up-and-do-the-same-again rugby. There have never been enough girls for fancy plays and perfectly timed passes. It’s gritty and gutty and good enough.
In the last three minutes, we stole possession, and ran until we were hit, over and over, until we’d brought the ball down in the end zone to score. We scored! The game was over, we’d lost 56-5. It felt like we’d won. We danced and laughed and hugged as if we’d won.
We gave three cheers for the other team, one cheer for us, one cheer for the ref, and most importantly, two cheers for women’s rugby. A messy, chaotic game that gives women the opportunity to feel and be powerful, strong, and fierce.
Grace, in rugby – and in losing – comes with practice. You are learning to love the game for the game itself. And after four years of losing, you’ve also learned to love the parts of yourself that don’t always win.