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An early Christmas

At the first glimmer of light outside my window last Saturday morning, the butterflies were playing havoc with my stomach. At long last the big day had finally arrived. As I tried to dose off again to get maximum rest, a few text messages came through on my phone, as family and friends were wishing me all the best for my debut for Bath and first rugby match in seven months.

My debut match, starting at number eight, was an Amlin Cup home fixture against Calvisano from Italy.

I gave up on sleep, got out of bed, and had a long hot shower, visualizing and running through scenarios on the field. My body felt ready and my mind was focused, but I had a few hours until kick-off and, as all sportsmen know only too well, those hours seem to plod past at pedestrian pace.

Your conscious mind obviously knows what to expect, but it’s as if your subconscious prepares your body for the battle ahead. You feel different on match day – focused, energized, and ready to perform.

I kept having to tell myself that everything would go well, that my hard work had to pay off now, that my knee would hold up in the match intensity. It is impossible to simulate a match in training. The physical intensity of a collision sport is unsurpassed.

I always find that when I feel anxious before games, the thought of 14 teammates who are in the same position as me, and who are willing to put their bodies on the line along with me, calms me down. I love that about rugby – the camaraderie that playing together with teammates brings.

It was reassuring having my family, and especially my sister, in the crowd. It brought me a sense of composure; not everything around me was foreign and new.

The emotions I experienced when we ran onto the field cannot adequately be described by my relatively limited vocabulary. I consulted the Microsoft Word thesaurus for a few synonyms for words such as 'awesome', 'exhilarated' and 'energized'. But not even Bill Gates can capture the feeling. It was similar to the adrenalin rush you get during your first kiss, or I imagine the feeling when you bungee jump or skydive – and no, I’ve never done either! It was the culmination of months of frustration and disappointment through injury and rehab, leading at last to a breakthrough moment.

Once on the field, everything happened so quickly. Initially at least, I didn’t feel in control at all; it was as if something else was behind the steering wheel, driving me to different scenarios around the field, but as I got into the game, I was able to apply so many things I have focused on during my break from rugby. Obviously, though, there is still so much to work on.

Michael Claassens did nothing to settle my nerves when he added to the pressure by mentioning before the game that every South African who has played for Bath (he himself, Flouw, Pieter Dixon, Butch James and Luke Watson), had scored tries on their debut for Bath. You can imagine how delighted I was when I managed to score in the 25th minute. To a fair extent, the pressure was off and I was able to focus on enjoying the game as well as trying to perform at my best.

All in all, it makes me really happy – and is a major relief – to be able to write now that my knee gave me no problems, and that my 55 minutes of game-time went well. It has been months since I have been able to write about a game I’ve played in.

The temperature has plummeted. My windscreen was frozen earlier in the week, and in my eagerness to get to training I threw some of the bottled water I had in my car over the windscreen to try and melt the ice. I had to run back inside to fetch a pair of socks and when I returned the water had frozen to make even thicker ice. But ‘boer maak ’n plan’ and I used my fingernails to scratch out a square of windscreen to give me a modicum of visibility, which was not the safest way to do it. I have now invested in anti-freeze spray.

Everyone in Bath is getting into the Christmas mood, with carols and Christmas lights around every street corner. I am sure it will be my first white Christmas, which will be very different to my usual Christmas on my parents’ Boland farm or my childhood Christmas on my grandparents’ Karoo farm.

We travel to Italy this weekend to play our return match against Calvisano. I am very excited as I have never been to Italy, and last week's emotional outing on the field has left me wanting more, so Saturday promises to be another awesome experience.

I woke up last Sunday morning and the first thing I thought was: 'I can't wait for next Saturday.' It feels so good to be able to say that again!

Please leave any questions in the comments section below; I'll include the answers in next week's blog.

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