The Millionaire and the Kid
Receiving the rugby ball under pressure inside his own quarter, he appears surrounded. But he slips through a gap as thin as rice paper, checks, and veers to the outside. With a certain nonchalance he straightens, jinks once more then accelerates downfield. The last line of defence a mere inconvenience. Glory is a white line just 50 metres away.
“Go” I scream silently. For, as the match referee, at least a dollop of impartiality from me is proper form. Yet, I am also his coach. And I am quite prepared to enjoy a sensational score against our local rivals.
The young lad speeds into the opposition 22. All alone. Me in his rear view mirror. Trying unsuccessfully to not look delighted.
And then he drops the ball. Just drops it. On purpose. Just drops it forward on to the ground as I hove into view. My syrupy snarl translates as “and just what the hell are you thinking?”
“Oh, I did the hard bit” he replies.
Kids do the darndest things.
They also do remarkable things. Never mind our sidestepping boy wonder, one of the greatest feats I ever see on a rugby field comes courtesy of another precocious teen. In a school match he makes 10 of 10 placekicks. And not for him a series of agricultural prods from in front of the sticks. Rather, it is the manner in which he achieves it. This is a serious 10 for 10, all conversions from well out wide. Something I had never seen before, haven’t seen since and am positive won’t ever see again. Because the five from the right sideline are kicked left footed. The other five, from the left sideline, are kicked right footed.
Of course, kicked is not the correct verb. Kicked sounds hard, speaks of a certain crudeness, hints at steel toed boots. These balls are not kicked but rather struck as sweet as candy, each one tracing a cobalt blue sky in the same perfect parabola. Climbing effortlessly. Then tumbling gently, end over end. Just inside the far post, before drawing ever so slightly to bisect the crossbar.
And no fuss either. No summoning a small boy and his pail, so to build a launch pad of sand. No impatient shout for the rubber kicking tee. Nothing. Just a mark in the ground with his heel. Ball down. Three steps back and one to the side. A quick glance to get his bearings. Then forward.
Four months later, this precocious teen moves on to college. While there, he plays basketball. He is good at it. So good he then joins the pro ranks. Over a glittering 18-year career, he is a human highlight reel. He signs massive contracts and becomes one of the game’s greatest performers as he revolutionizes the sport. An Olympian, a two-time NBA MVP and a first ballot Hall of Famer.
He makes millions and thrills millions, thanks to his on-court wizardry. Still, I best remember his stunning kicking display. And of him, still a kid, casually running back to join his teammates after the tenth and final conversion. Only his eyes betray him. Quite simply, they sparkle.
His name is Nash.