Cauliflower Ears by Bill Nagelkerke – Chapter 14

Chapter 14: Last try

The Reds got another try. The score shot from twelve-seven to seventeen-seven. Luckily for us they missed the conversion. The margin was bad enough as it was, we couldn’t afford for it to go any higher.

Then we managed to get a second try: Grubber managed to get another one. I saw him sneak a look over to where his dad was standing and I’m pretty sure I saw his dad clapping and cheering along with the other Green supporters.

Seventeen – twelve.

But the try was a corner and when Chips gave me the nod I didn’t think anyone would expect me to convert the ball from that hard angle. So no one, not even I, was surprised when I didn’t even though I’d been hoping like mad that I’d be able to make up for my earlier disaster.

There were only fifteen minutes left to play. The Reds, who we thought had been rough and tough enough, got even rougher and tougher. We were run down each time we made a break with the ball. They tackled from the side, from behind, from out in front. Grubber’s dad would be having kittens just watching. And we stayed a man down. Poor Sprigs wasn’t able to return to the field. All we could do was hunker down in defence and try our hardest to stop the Reds sprinting over the try line.

Then, unbelievably, the ref awarded us a second penalty. Taggart, back from the sin bin, was called offside.

This time Chip took the kick himself. I’d had my two chances. This time the ball went where it was supposed to, between the posts.

‘That was a really easy shot,’ Sprigs whispered to me, hoping to make me feel better. It did, but not much.

Seventeen – fifteen.

Only five minutes left to go and it didn’t look as if we’d have another chance to score before the whistle blew. Then it really hit me. If it hadn’t been for me missing the earlier penalty, we’d have been ahead.

I couldn’t help it. My mind drifted. Maybe they’re all glad I’m leaving, I started to tell myself. Maybe they’ve just been waiting for the day when I played my last game with the Greens. Maybe because I’m . . .

‘Wings,’ yells Chips. ‘Wake up!’

What’s happening?

I suddenly snap awake. The Greens have possession!

The ball’s being unloaded as we sprint down the field, the Reds on our tails.

Chip passes to Danny.

Danny passes to Grubber.

Grubber passes to me.

It’s a perfect break, a class formation. We sweep across the field like a bird’s wing.

‘Go for it Wings!’ Grubber yells.

And I do. I’m the winger. I have wings so I can fly. I can reach the try line. I can beat the odds, make up for my earlier failures.

But can I? Really?

No, I can’t. There are too many players marking me.

But I have to try. Give it better than my best. One hundred percent plus, and then some.

So I swerve and swing, duck and dive, skim out of their way.

Where’s everyone else?

I’ve ended up in mid-field, too fast for the other Greens to be in support.

Now the goalposts are right in front of me, so close, but Taggart is looming, Spike’s on my heels. I’ll never make it to put the ball down.

‘Drop kick!’ I hear a yell.

It’s Sprigs’ voice coming from the bench, screaming at me what to do.

But I can’t kick. I’ve proved that twice already in this game. I’m a useless, no-hoper kicker.

And I’m too close too the bar.

And then I fall flat on my face as I’m tackled from behind.

And I can’t bear to look up to see what I’ve done.


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