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Authors: Bill Nagelkerke

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BOOK: Cauliflower Ears
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And I knew he was right.

Things improved a little after that bad
beginning. Grubber scored a try and Sprigs’ place kick converted it
sweetly between the posts.

Seven - seven.


At least my leftover lace
is still working its magic,’ said Sprigs. If he could have bent
down far enough to kiss that lace I’m sure he would
have.


The try will help keep my
dad awake and on his toes,’ said Grubber, sounding really
pleased.


You did good to get him
to stay and watch for a change,’ said Sprigs.

Grubber’s dad was a nurse at the hospital.
He

worked in Accident and
Emergency. Grubber’s dad didn’t like rugby much, because he thought
Grubber was going to get injured one day, but Grubber loved the
game so much that his dad just had to let him play.


I told him this morning
that I’d never talk to him again if he missed seeing us win the
Junior Home World Cup,’ Grubber said.


You didn’t mean it, did
you?’ I said.

Grubber didn’t answer me.

I was happy that Sprigs had converted
Grubber’s try. Me, I’m not a kicker.

And I was really, really stoked that Grubber
had scored that try.

But I couldn’t help wishing that it’d been
me. I’m a winger, you see. That’s why my nickname is Wings. When
I’m running I feel as if I’ve sprouted two massive feathery things
that fly me all over the field.

I desperately wanted a chance to use my
wings before the final whistle blew.

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

Fouled

 

The Reds scored another try in the first
half but missed the conversion, so the half time score was twelve
to seven. We were feeling pretty down, even though Mr Marlow was
pleased enough with us.


You’ve had a lot of ball
possession,’ he said. ‘You’re doing good. With the wind behind you,
you’ll play even better.’

We’d have to play lots better if we were
going to win.

The Reds kicked off the second half. Spike’s
best friend, Taggart, the Red’s loosehead prop, got to the ball
first. He kicked it forward before Chip had a chance to tackle him.
Sprigs managed to grab hold of the ball - he’d scrubbed his hands
during the half-time break - and now it was our turn to run with
it.

Sprigs had a good head start. It looked as
if Mr Marlow was right. We might be the first to score points in
this half.

Then the Reds bunched up and swooped down
on

Sprigs from all sides.
Their heavy forward pack was one of the most dangerous in the
Junior Home World Cup. If Sprigs had had eyes in the back of his
head, man, he’d have been dead scared right then. Grubber might
have wet himself if
he’d
been the one holding the ball!

Taggart was angry that his kick hadn’t
worked out the way he’d planned it. It was obvious that he was
after Sprigs, big time.

I was the closest Green to Sprigs.


To me!’ I
yelled.

Sprigs already had it sussed. He passed me
the ball from mid-field. It was the perfect pass, great height,
angled back just enough, and my hands reached out to grab it, sweet
as, and I ran with it.

Then the Ref blew his whistle and the ball
went dead.

 

Chapter 10

 

Injury

 


It was a fair throw!’ I
said, wondering what had happened.

The Ref nodded. ‘Agreed,’ he said. ‘But a
foul tackle.’

At first I didn’t know what he meant, so I
looked to where he was pointing. Poor Sprigs lay on the ground, one
leg twisted under him.

Taggart stood beside him, grinning, but sly
and dangerous looking as well.


Legal tackle,’ he
said.

The Ref shook his head. ‘The ball had left
Sprigs’ hands,’ he said.


Hadn’t,’ said
Taggart.


Had too,’ hissed Sprigs
from below.


You okay?’ I asked
him.


Just twisted my ankle I
reckon,’ said Sprigs.

The medics helped Sprigs off the field.


I’ll be fine,’ Sprigs
said. ‘Good thing it’s not you

being carted off,’ he told Grubber. ‘Your
old man

would’ve had a fit.’

Grubber looked anxiously towards the
sidelines. ‘What’re we going to do now? We’re a man down.’

Sprigs glared at Taggart. ‘I’ll be back,’ he
said.


Not likely,’ said
Taggart.

Taggart was still grinning, but not for
long.


Sin bin,’ the Ref said to
him.


Wha . . .’


Don’t argue. I’ll talk to
you later.’


Not fair,’ said
Taggart.

But, even so, he couldn’t stop smirking. He
knew what he’d done. He’d taken out our best kicker.


Oh no,’ said Grubber
suddenly.


What?’ I
asked.


Look,’ said
Grubber.

I looked. We all did. Striding towards us
was Grubber’s dad.


He’s going to tell me to
get off the field,’ said Grubber. ‘I just know he is.’

 

 

 

Chapter 11

 

Play on

 

It took Grubber’s dad only a few seconds to
reach us, but it seemed like minutes, hours even.


I saw what happened,’ he
said.


It’s been dealt with,’
said the Ref. ‘Sprigs is going to be okay.’

Grubber’s dad shook his head. ‘That was just
luck,’ he said. ‘It could have been much worse. I don’t want my boy
to get hurt.’


Dad . . .’ said
Grubber.


I’ve seen too many rugby
injuries in my line of work,’ said Grubber’s dad. He looked at
Grubber. ‘Why don’t you call it quits?’

It was hard to tell if Grubber was looking
sick with shame, or sick with fear that his dad would actually
force him out of the match. On the other side of the field the Reds
were watching, wondering what was going on. They edged in closer to
find out.

Mr Marlow arrived on the scene.


You’re holding up the
game,’ said the Ref to Grubber’s dad.


I hope you’ll let Grubber
stay on,’ said Mr Marlow, calm as always. ‘We’re already a man down
now.’


And how many more will
get carted off before the game finishes?’ asked Grubber’s dad.
‘With rough players like them.’ He looked over at the Reds, who
were only a few metres away from us now.

Before Mr Marlow could reply, Grubber spoke
up.


I’m not going,’ he said.
‘I love rugby and I’m going to finish this game.’


Please Mr Foley,’ I
added. ‘We can’t do without Grubber. Look at the way he got that
first try for us. This game is way too important for
us.’

Grubber’s dad looked at me, at Mr Marlow, at
the Ref, at the rest of the Green team.


It was a good try,’ he
said, reluctantly. ‘I have to admit that. Okay, I won’t interfere.
Just take care, and play fair.’

He said that last bit loudly enough for the
Reds to hear, before he walked back to the sideline. We all
breathed great sighs of relief.


Penalty shot,’ said the
Ref.

Chapter 12

 

Loser

 

We, the Greens, looked at each other. We’d
almost forgotten the foul tackle. Who was going to take the
penalty? Sprigs was our star goal kicker but he’d been carted off
the field.


You give it a go Wings,’
said Chip.


Me!’ I cried. ‘Why
me?’


We all know that none of
us are a patch on Sprigs,’ said Chip, ‘but at least you’re fast and
accurate, and good with your feet. That’s what Mr Marlow always
says.’


That’s
when I’m
running
!
I’m a winger.’


Well, don’t start
sounding like a whinger,’ said Chip impatiently. ‘Greens can be
anything they want to be, that’s a key part of our game plan,
remember?’

I remembered. I also remembered Dad praising
me this morning for always giving my best. One hundred precent
plus,’ he’d said.


Just give it your best
shot,’ said Chip, as if he’d

read my mind.

Everyone looked at me. Hopeful. Expectant.
They didn’t want me to let them down.


All right,’ I said. ‘I’ll
try.’


Good one,’ said Chip, and
they all punched me on the arm for luck. Ouch!

There was another commotion from the
sideline.


What now?’ said the
Ref.

A hand waving, holding something that looked
like a piece of string. It was Sprigs.


What’s that boy want?’
said the Ref.


Just get on with the
game,’ said Spike.


Go check it out,’ the Ref
told Chip.

Chip ran over to the bench and came back a
few seconds later with a piece of one of Sprigs’ shoelaces in his
hands.


He had it stuffed inside
his sock,’ said Chip, shaking his head.


It must be Sprig’s lucky
lace, the one that broke,’ said Grubber.


What am I supposed to do
with it?’ I asked.


Stuff
it into
your
sock,’ said Chips. ‘Sprigs wants you to have it, for luck he
said.’


Luck,’ I thought to
myself. ‘I’ll need more than

that. I’ll need a miracle.’ But I took the
grubby lace and put it inside my sock.


Thanks,’ I called out to
Sprigs.


What a bunch of losers,’
I heard Spike mutter.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13

 

Swansong?

  

I put the kicking tee into place and set up
the ball. I looked from the ball to the goal posts and back to the
ball. It seemed an easy shot. At least for Sprigs it might have
been an easy shot. But for me it was another story altogether.

Boy, was I nervous. I was so nervous, I was
sweating. I heard Mr Marlow’s voice in my head. ‘Attitude’s
everything. If you think you can do it, you can. Steady. Focus.
Imagine the ball flying high. Imagine putting the ball right where
you want it to be.’

I tried my best to follow Mr Marlow’s advice
but my kicking foot felt stiff and tight in my boot.

Even if I got this one, I realised, we’d
still be behind by two points.

I started my run.

I stopped.

Deep breath.

I started again.

I stopped.

Another deep breath.

While the Greens stood silent and anxious
around me, the Reds whistled and booed and laughed until the Ref
had to blow his whistle. ‘Keep quiet,’ he said.

I couldn’t do it.

I
had
to do it.

One last run up.

Kick, and the ball flies.

It goes high. The Greens almost stop
breathing and so do I. And the ball goes just wide of the post!

So close. But being so close means nothing.
I missed it. I missed what would have been an easy shot for old
Sprigs. I can’t believe it, but I have to. I missed.

On the sideline the Red Brigade cheers. The
Greenies, on the other hand, look as if they’re going to cry into
their scarves.

Suddenly I get the very bad, very
deep-sinking feeling that I’ve lost the Greens the Grand Final, and
that maybe Spike was half right. The Greens aren’t the losers, I
am.

BOOK: Cauliflower Ears
9.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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