Richard Pritchard and the Saesneg Scrummage

Richard Pritchard had been the only private detective in the town of Bryngwyrdd Mawr, picking up where the heddlu left off to be the last line of defence against cheating husbands, sheep rustlers and myriad miscreants and wrong’uns. And all this he achieved despite being so short-sighted as to be virtually blind.

But when he got his sight back through state of the art laser surgery, his new outlook on life and broadened horizons made him wonder about the world beyond Bryngwyrdd Mawr. Soon he was taken away from his home town, and his beloved Catherine Zeta Jenkins, and recruited to go deep undercover as a secret agent in a foreign country where the people talk funny and the customs are strange: England.

*

Richard and his contact, Special Agent Lee Delamere, met up at their secret location on the English side of the bridge for some last minute preparation, before Richard could try to blend in to the capital itself. The first thing they had to work on was the voice.

“You know that catchphrase of yours,” said Lee, “That ‘right you are then’?”

“That’s not my catchphrase is it?”

“It is, Richard; you say it all the time.”

“Oh. Right you are then.”

“Exactly. You need to stop rolling the ‘r’ when you say that – you sound like someone’s trying to start up a motorbike.”

“Oh, do I? How should I say it then?”

“A true Londoner would pronounce it ‘ry choo ar den’.”

Richard pulled a face as he tried to get his mouth round this alien tongue. “Ry choo ar den?”

“Much better, Richard. By the time I’ve finished with you, you’ll be wearing a bowler hat and be rubbish at rugby.”

Richard did his best to put on an English accent, “I’m Richard, and I’m rubbish at rugby.”

Lee put his hands over his ears. “Is this the Isle of Man TT?” he shouted, “Stop rrrrolling those r’s!”

“Oh, rrright – I mean right you are then.”

*

Richard adopted the Saesneg version of his name – Ri-cky! – and managed to pass himself off as an Englishman working in a civil service office in the heart of London. Until there came a challenge which threatened to blow his cover and reveal his true identity: the annual inter-office rugby match. Even when he was half blind he was better at rugby than any Englishman; if he could actually see the ball he would be so superior as to make it obvious he wasn’t one of them.

“Oh Lee, do I really have to play?” asked Richard at their next secret meeting.

“It’s imperative that you do, Richard,” replied Agent Delamere, “Because the whole point of your being stationed to London was to recover a piece of state of the art surveillance equipment known as the All Seeing Eye. This is kept at the Greenhill Building, which is guarded at all times and nearly impossible to get into – except for the winning team in the rugby match who get invited to a special reception there. So your mission depends on your team winning that match – but you have to do it without revealing yourself as a Welshman.”

“Oh. Right you are then.”

*

Richard looked across at the opposition; they weren’t bad, for Saesnegs. They practised tackling, threw the ball to one another, and even caught it some of the time. His own teammates, in their suspiciously spotless and well ironed shirts, seemed less familiar with the game. Some of those who held a ball stared at it in wonderment, amazed that it had two pointy ends instead of being completely spherical. The rest of those who held a ball didn’t do so for long, hopelessly fumbling for no good reason and running round in circles as they tried to catch up with it. None of them looked like potential match-winners, and only Nigel, the team captain, showed any promise – and that was just because he was looking at his side with the same grim apprehension that Richard felt.

At least the weather wasn’t too bad. Cool and bright, but with still a bit of squelch in the turf from the previous day’s rain. The tops of the trees were beginning to sway a bit, which was a concern because half of his team looked like a stiff breeze would knock them over. Still, it felt great to be back on a rugby pitch again. Other than in the arms of Catherine Zeta, there was nowhere he’d rather be.

The opposition took the opening kick, and immediately Richard’s fears were realised. Their centre sashayed effortlessly through weak tackles and was soon up against Richard himself. Not wanting to stand out by making a great tackle already, he let the centre slip past, hoping that Nigel was covering behind. He was, but the opponent managed an offload. It passed the other centre, the winger flailed at it and missed – but crucially, never knocked it on – before the full-back managed to pick it up on the bounce and touch it down over the line. 5-0 already; the other lot weren’t bad for Saesnegs. Fortunately, the conversion was scuffed and bobbled wide of the upright and under crossbar height anyway. They weren’t bad, but they were still Saesnegs.

The remainder of the first half saw the opposition enjoying the majority of the ball, but Richard knew they couldn’t afford to let the margin grow. He started to make some tackles – not too many, and none too spectacular, and Nigel picked up plenty of others. Once or twice, Richard simply picked up a nearby teammate and flung him at the ball carrier: spectators seemed not to spot this, and the unwitting tacklers were happy to take the credit. Along with the opposition’s frequent handling errors and inaccurate goal kicking, that kept the score down, but Richard’s team could do nothing with the ball. Richard knew that he could run in for a try every time he got the ball, but to do so would be a dead giveaway. He passed the ball on to Nigel usually: he’d make some ground, but then be engulfed by the entire opposing team. Assuming he was the only decent player, the rest of his team were left well alone – they were only making plans for Nigel. Any of the other 13 players would have had a free walk to the line if they got ball in hand, but every time Richard passed to any of them, they either dropped it or missed it completely.

Just before half-time, the opposing number 10 tested Richard with a high, spiralling Garryowen, which swirled around in the wind and came down with snow on it. Without thinking, Richard leapt into the air, thrust out his right arm and caught the ball one handed as he called for the mark. Only when he saw the looks of shock on the faces around him did he notice his mistake. His heart pounded and the panic started to rise within him. The whole field had gone completely silent as everybody seemed to hold their breath.

Hoping it wasn’t already too late, Richard deliberately slipped as he took the clearing kick, allowing the ball to squirm apologetically off the outside of his boot and into touch, a little bit behind him if anything. There was an audible sigh of relief all around him, interspersed with a few sympathetic chuckles.

Nigel was supportive: “Good try Ricky; you found touch, that’s the main thing.”

The referee blew for half-time before the lineout could be taken, so at least it was still only a five point deficit. Trouble was, having nearly given the game away already, Richard couldn’t afford to score any of those points himself.

The second half wore on in the same vein, with neither side having the quality to add to the scoreline, and as time ticked away, Richard felt he had to be bolder. He started to make ground with the ball and break tackles, time and time again: it would have been an obvious star performance to any true rugby aficionado, but the average Englishman only noticed whoever took the ball over the line. So as long as Richard could set someone else up for the vital score it would be okay, but his teammates repeatedly knocked on one yard from the try line.

With time expiring, Richard went on one last run, slaloming at will through wayward tackles, but dare he score the winning try himself? As he approached the shadow of the posts, he looked around to assess his options. To his left was the fresh faced work experience boy, newly on as a replacement because the original winger started crying when he got a graze on his knee. To his right was the ever dependable Nigel, but as ever marked by at least half of the opposing team. Richard flipped the ball to his left, and hoped for the best.

The boy caught it. He himself was more shocked than anyone: he stood motionless, frozen in shock and disbelief. He looked as frightened as if he held a bomb in his grasp, and with good reason as the opposition charged towards him. With a squeal so high-pitched that only dogs could hear it (and Richard, who still retained heightened senses from when he was nearly blind), the boy threw the ball back just behind Richard. He gathered it in a smart pirouette and passed it on once more to Nigel, who had taken up a smart position in front of the posts, finally free of the following posse. He dived jubilantly over the line, and the scores were level. Only an under the post conversion stood between them and victory.

Nigel didn’t seem to fancy taking it himself. “I’m no kicker,” he mumbled, but all of his teammates averted their gaze and refused to make eye contact. He looked to Richard, for a moment, but seemed to remember his sliced mark clearance, and thought better of it.

So it fell to the skipper to win the match. He stepped up, swung his right foot … and dragged the kick wide of the posts! But at that exact moment, the wind which had been increasing all day, unleashed a huge sudden gust which took the ball the other way, back through the posts and over for the win.

There was jubilation from the rest of the office workers, and the friends and families of the players. “That was brilliant!” said one, “Did you see the way he used the wind?”

“Nigel does it again!” cried another, “Man of the match once more – he’s been our star player for years!”

Richard smiled; he didn’t want or need the credit. So even as he joined in with the three cheers for Nigel, he was making plans for the Greenhill Building, and the All Seeing Eye.

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