Wannabe All Black
Tana Umaga's memoir released this week is an inspiring read. So inspiring in fact that I have decided to publish my own rugby memoir.
It's heartening to know you don't need to have had much of a career to justify the felling of countless trees to record for immortality your rugby experiences. Just a couple of seasons in the game is more than enough to ensure a bestseller in New Zealand's insatiable rugby-literature market.
My memoir – titled Martin van Beynen, Up Myself, An autobiography loosely based on the facts – will elaborate on some of the controversies that dogged my rugby career and will also answer some of my critics, of which, I regret to say, there are many. It will also contain some pithy insights into the professional game and deal with that issue which has puzzled the nation's rugby commentators: why I never made the All Blacks.
Perhaps the game that seems to have captured the public's imagination and caused me the most soul searching was the clash between the St Peters 4C team and Auckland Grammar in the winter of 1973.
The frenzied build-up had made it into a grudge match and tensions were high when we took the field. I couldn't help noticing that all the pretty girls were cheering for the Grammar side which only made us more determined to grind their faces (the players', not the girls') into the mud.
Did I give away that try? OK, when the ball came out on my side of the scrum perhaps I should have pounced on it and shielded it with my body instead of trying to boot it up field.
The fact it skidded off my boot into the Grammar backline, which then scored, has been seized on as the point at which St Peters lost the game.
I don't know how the critics came to that conclusion. It seems a very long bow to draw. Just because that was the only try in the game that Grammar won by four points.
Then there was the incident which sent the sidelines into a paroxysm of outrage when it appeared I had deliberately stood on someone in a ruck. I can now confess, although I feigned innocence at the time, that the stamping was deliberate although it was only the guy's buttock. The drama though. I just thought, "stop being a pussy, man and get on with it".
I always wondered if this game led to the affectionate nickname that I was saddled with from that day on. At least I think it was a nickname because I was often referred to from that day as that "bum player".
Although this jinxed game could have been the end of my rugby career, as many predicted, the following year I was selected for the St Peters 2D, an elite band of players who had not made the first or second XVs.
The selection marked a turning point in my path to the rugby pinnacle. An inspired decision by our coach, Father O'Driscoll, a man with a rugby pedigree honed in the seminary, meant I was transferred from the engine room of the forwards to fullback. It followed a suggestion that "he can do less damage there", no doubt a reference to giving opposing teams a bit more of a sporting chance against us.
Father O'Driscoll was a committed coach but I'm not sure he got the best of boys from a Dutch background who probably should have stuck to soccer.
I don't think he realised we have a different way of processing information. We like to be told things over a bit of beer and cheese.
Anyway, controversy followed me into the 2D team when we reached the finals against Mt Albert Grammar and I was accused of standing aside while a hulking prop made a run for the line. All I can do is reiterate my defence at the time. I was going for the intercept pass.
After leaving school I was encouraged to further my rugby experience in the red-hot cauldron of the Ponsonby fifth-division social-grade team.
I caught the attention of the commentators again, due to my devastating kick-and-run game, but then came the collision which, tragically, almost ended my career.
Sadly, it was a collision with my own wing when we both went for the same high ball. I'm sure I called "mine". The ball popped up into the hands of the opposing player who then trampled me into the ground, breaking my shoulder. I lay on the ground thinking "what happened?"
Thankfully for rugby I recovered, and by this time professional rugby was shaking the rugby establishment to its core. I was always in favour of professionalism in rugby with only one reservation.
It made no allowance for promising rugby players like me who just needed a break from the social grades where we had been banished due to small things like size, competence and skill.
People have often wondered why I never made the All Blacks. It's always rankled that the selection panel never saw the merit of visiting our social-grade team to spot the tremendous talent on offer. Our coach always used to tell me that I was overreaching.
But I'd say, "F... the selection panel. They should be doing their job."