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It was 78 minutes into the game that it happened. It had been a very wet few days and the ground was soft to the touch, which made tackling less rough on the players' bodies, but left them covered in streaks of mud which dried and pulled at their skin. The humid air likewise made it harder for the players' sweat to evaporate and increased their body temperature. All in all, Coach Briar knew that his players would be having a hard time of it, but they had done well this far. James had scored 3 tries in the first half and Matthew another one, giving them an almost unassailable lead. But the lack of concentration the opposition had shown in the first half had gone, and now they were on the rebound, almost drawing equal. It was 27-22 to Linden Uni and Coach Briar was keen to see out the final minutes defensively to maintain their winning position. The players knew this too and -- as discussed in training -- had rearranged themselves to prioritise the defending of the try line rather than to break through the opponent's forwards. However, this was starting to prove harder than expected: the attacking fly-half had clearly found an extra spurt of energy and was able to use this against the worn-down Linden defence to slowly bring the playing line ever closer to the try line.
Luke never liked this scenario. A 23 year-old, 6'2", lightly hairy and well-built guy who clearly spent a lot of time in the gym, his stature meant that he always ended up being the first line of defence -- an unenviable task. This had been the case since childhood, but it was only when he reached puberty that the jokes about his being the perfect hooker started. Of course, growing up in this position had enabled him to overcome the fear that most guys were confronted with when they started later. It isn't everyone's natural reaction when a 15-stone, muscle-clad, rock of a forward comes charging at you with a ball to position yourself directly in his path. But for Luke, this didn't faze him. He knew that it was all about physics -- if you pin a moving object at its base, then its momentum will bring it crashing to the ground. Of course, knowing this and being able to put it into action on the rugby field are two different things. That's why Luke was known as being Coach Briar's secret weapon. Years of practice gave him the ability to judge the angle, speed and -- importantly -- the timing of a tackle to overcome even the quickest and nimblest of forwards. And today was no exception. Time after time, he had managed to bring the opponents crashing to the floor, often releasing the ball in the process so that his teammates could launch an assault on their own try-line. Indeed, that was the starting point for 3 of their 4 tries today. Of course, the irony hadn't been lost on Luke: it was when a forward was attacking at the fastest pace that the clenching arms of his tackles had the greatest effect -- his upper arms wrapped round their lower legs converted their excess of kinetic energy into utter instability and the inability to retain the ball when they hit the ground. In effect, the harder an opposing forward tried, the more likely they were to give away the ball under Luke's influence. This is why he often smiled to himself during a tackle. After lining himself up and jumping, his arms would grab hold of and squeeze his victim's legs, at which point there was this half-second pause when the world seemed to stand still -- that moment in which his victim's movement turned from being horizontal to vertical. This moment was one of stillness and was what Luke loved, craved even. He always took a moment to evaluate his aim -- not too close to the ankles so as to protect his face from the guy's boots, but not too high up his leg so that the effect of the energy-conversion was maximised. In any case, in this moment, he often knew that it was over for the other guy shortly before his victim accepted it -- this gave him an enjoyable sense of power. But it was the effect on his senses that he loved the most: that smell and taste of sweat mixed with mud on a guy's leg; the hair scratching against his face -- it felt right, somehow. He was pretty sure that he wasn't gay -- not that he would have a problem with playing around with another guy, he reckoned -- just that he had never had the opportunity. Still, he wondered what it would be like.
Malcolm, on the other hand, was different. He had only begun playing rugby after starting his maths degree. He wasn't your typical maths student -- his Dad had been a very successful cyclist when he was younger and this effect had worn off on his son. A combination of healthy eating and regular trips to the gym had given him a strong frame and a muscled softness to his features. But maths was his passion. He understood that others might find this difficult to comprehend, but there was a certain beauty to it, when an axiom can be derived from basic principles and be built up into ever more complicated certainties, giving rise to new possibilities for applications in physics, engineering or in a whole range of other disciplines. He just didn't seem to have much in common with his fellow maths students, almost all of whom seemed to exude clichés: watching Star Wars, LARP-ing or generally avoiding human contact. As such, he was glad that he had met some members of the rugby team in his first week at the student union welcome event. He had gone to the event with an open mind -- having come from a small town, going to university also represented access to a greater range of opportunities in terms of sport and culture. He had already decided to see what the French society had to offer, as he didn't want what he had learnt at school to rust away, but other than that, he just planned to stroll around and see what took his fancy. And boy, did the rugby team do exactly that.
He first noticed them while browsing a stand on the Officer Training Corps. It was one of his father's favourite topics -- and no doubt doing basic army training would provide you with a lot of useful life-skills -- but to be honest, it reminded him of home too much. He wanted to branch out. And then that cheer happened. About five guys, all clearly well-trained and wearing sports kit, suddenly let out a roar of excitement and happiness to Malcolm's left, causing him to turn around. For a moment, he couldn't move. It was like he was just stuck to the spot. They had clearly just convinced a new student to join the team and, from the looks of things, he wasn't unfamiliar with the world of rugby. No doubt they had high hopes for his effect on the team's chances. But Malcolm wasn't thinking about that. He was just transfixed by how hot they all were. Okay, they weren't all identikit -- they had a range of heights, builds, hair colour etc., but they all had this one thing in common: a supreme sense of self-confidence. Or at least, as a group, they did. More to the point, they were all gym-trained and weren't afraid of letting others in on this fact. They had come along looking the part. They were all wearing rugby kit with stretchy tops, tight shorts, long sports socks and, although Malcolm would have expected them to be wearing trainers, they were all wearing army-style black leather combat boots. Of course, the stretchy tops enabled anyone to see exactly what they were hiding: large rounded pecs with visible nipples of various sizes (though all protruding, just like the chest hair under some of their shirts), with bulbous arm muscles and solid stomachs. Meanwhile, the shorts did a wonderfully bad job of covering their lower bodies. Each guy had legs like tree-trunks and well-developed calves such that some of them looked like their socks might soon give up trying to hold them in. Trying not to feel intimidated, Malcolm decided to go over and say hello, and he didn't regret it.
Like lions who are instinctively able to recognise `one of their own', the guys on the stand saw Malcolm's build and welcomed him as a fellow rugby player. Slapping him on the back and putting their arms around his shoulder like comrades, they told him all about the team, where and when training takes place, how often they play matches and also the social aspects. It was all Malcolm could do not to get an erection. Frankly, he thought, training could be in Australia and he'd happily get on a plane each week for 20 hours to get there, just so he could see them showering. Of course, the question was inevitably going to come: what team did you play for before you came here? And it caused the expected crestfallen reactions when he had to admit that he had never played rugby before. One of the guys piped up and said, `Really? You sure? I mean, from your body, I'd just assume you've been playing your whole life.'. `No,', Malcolm replied uncertainly, `I just trained at the gym with my Dad'. `Well, that is unexpected, but we can get you trained up if you're interested', said the guy, `I mean, it'd be great to have you and Coach Briar is always chuffed to have some pre-prepared muscle on the team! Sorry, forgot to say, my name is James'. `Cool, nice to meet you', said Malcolm. `And I'd be more than happy to show you the ropes. You'd be a natural', said the student to Malcolm's left, about whom the other guys had let out their cheer earlier on. Malcolm turned to look at him for the first time and felt like he had been slapped in the face. The student's eyes were piercingly blue and, coupled with his blond, lightly curled hair, lent his face a strong, but not too chiselled appearance. His smile -- the way the left corner of his mouth was just slightly inclined -- made him look cheeky, almost as if he was hiding a desire to do something quite unthinkable. And Malcolm would have been only too happy to have obliged. Frankly, Malcolm would have had nothing against getting on all fours and let this guy take exactly what he wanted, perhaps even what he needed. `By the way, I'm Luke', he said. Malcolm paused involuntarily. `Good to know', he replied, smiling.
The next few weeks were an eye-opener for Malcolm. Training was three times a week at the playing fields in the south of the city, reachable by bus within 20 minutes. He went and bought kit from the local sports shop and immediately loved the feel of it. The tightness of the top and coarseness of the thick-fabric shorts rubbed against his skin with a roughness that caused his cock to stir. He hadn't known that rugby shorts were different to those worn by footballers, instead made of a densely woven cotton to withstand the strains of the game. It wasn't long before he was regularly wearing it while wanking, giving him extra sensations as he worked himself up to emptying his balls. Training turned out to be a lot less intimidating than expected. Coach Briar's face couldn't stop beaming from the moment he set eyes on Malcolm. Okay, he was just as taken-aback as Malcolm's fellow teammates when he found out that he had never played rugby before, but didn't seem to have any doubts about his ability to pick it up quickly. And it wasn't as if Malcolm was left to fend for himself. The watchword in this group was clearly `team'. As Coach Briar told them at the introductory meeting in the student union offices before the first field-meet: `If one guy falls, the whole team falls. You need to stop thinking of yourselves as individuals and think instead as a collective whole. The team is stronger than the sum of its parts and so, if you have the skills to help someone improve their game, help them. If you are in a situation where you think you might get hurt, don't think about how much it will hurt you, but how much the different possible outcomes will hurt the team. Nobody wants to get injured, but wimping out due to the fear of getting injured isn't acceptable.' Underlining this point, Coach Briar -- a hairy, mid-40s, ex-player for the Scottish national team with an accent to match -- took a hard line: `This is what rugby is about. Broken arms can be easily mended; broken morale and trust is much harder. Get out there and be men -- take the pain and grow stronger from it. There will be times when you are freezing cold, when you are wet, covered in mud, bruised and aching. Most people would seek shelter, but rugby players don't. Rugby players remain in the wet and the cold and they fight on. They have an aim, a goal and they achieve it regardless. This is what is expected of you and this is what you'll be trained to do. If you succeed, you'll gain the respect of your teammates. If not, you'll soon find yourself& ', Coach Briar turned his head slightly and smiled to himself a moment, `well, let's work on the assumption that nobody will find out what happens'. No doubt this was the driving influence behind the comradery Malcolm witnessed amongst the players at the welcome-event stand. To be honest, Coach Briar sounded like a bit of a sadist when he spoke like that. And much to Malcolm's confusion, he didn't seem to entirely dislike it.
However, implementing this was a challenging prospect for Malcolm, made harder by the fact that he had been paired up as a training-buddy with Luke to become a prop -- the hooker's support. Simply put, once Luke -- the hooker -- had brought a guy to the ground, it was the prop's role to take possession of the ball and pass it out so that others could bring it up to the try-line, free of the scrum of players around the ball, thus (hopefully) giving them a mostly free run. Of course, this is easier said than done. The player brought down by the hooker is normally going at quite a pace, as are the players accompanying him. Malcolm -- the prop -- on the other hand, is often starting from a stationery position and has to run in to the area of attack and take the ball in defiance of the onslaught from the opposing team's players. Having watched some professional rugby games as training material, Malcolm knew what this meant. The professional players hadn't flinched but he couldn't imagine how he was ever going to do this.
In the first training session, each existing player was asked to choose a training buddy -- a person who they would take under their wing and be like a mentor to them, both on and off the pitch. As Luke had so much experience, it was decided that he would be treated as an existing player and take on a buddy of his own. Both groups lined up, facing each other and Coach Briar asked them to rearrange themselves in order of height. `So, look at the guy standing opposite you -- this will be your buddy.', Coach Briar explained. `You see, in rugby, height is important. Each position requires different abilities and different strengths, and height is often a very good natural indicator of the abilities and strengths people are likely to have. Please do not get worried -- if you do not like your assigned position and would prefer to try another one out, we can certainly arrange that. However, bear in mind that in this team& ', again, that pause for effect, `I make the decisions'.
Malcolm found himself placed opposite James -- the guy he had spoken to at the welcome-event stand -- and Malcolm was trying to look at him as Coach Briar requested. But his eyes were wondering to the guy standing two places to his left: to Luke. It was like he had never imagined. Okay, his eyes were just as piercing and that gorgeous rounded jaw and mouth were just as inviting, but somehow, when Luke was at the stand, the clothes he had been wearing had managed to conceal that which was now laid almost bare. The first thing you noticed was his legs, his thighs, which were bigger than anyone else's on the team. These tree-trunks led up to an arse which looked like it had been sculpted out of clay. `As I said, please look at the person standing opposite you.', noted Coach Briar pointedly. Malcolm immediately stared at James and started worrying. `Was that comment aimed at me?', he thought. He had no way of knowing if Coach Briar had seen his distraction, but immediately decided that, should anyone call him up on it, he would just say that he had always wanted to have legs like Luke -- indeed, that is true and it had always formed a key part of his gym training -- and that he was simply wondering how he could improve his legs for the benefit of the team. As he added this last bit, he smiled slightly to himself. Coach Briar's comments had clearly rubbed off on him. But of course, just because he was no longer looking at Luke didn't mean for one second that Malcolm wasn't thinking about him. His thick neck, bulging chest and arms -- the diameter of which the average person would struggle to wrap their hands around -- made Malcolm's brain whirr.
`Of course, some people in the team clearly have strengths which are better suited to certain positions, and so I will consider making some changes', explained Coach Briar, `but for the moment, let's stick with& no, actually, you, what is your name? Matthew, right you swap this way so that you're with Tim as a winger.' Coach Briar paused for a moment to consider any other changes he thought necessary. `And you', Coach Briar pointed at Malcolm, causing his heart to pound, `sorry, you're Malcolm right?'. Malcolm was astounded that Coach Briar knew his name -- but how? He hadn't spoken to him before. `Yes, Coach', he confirmed, not quite with the air of confidence he was hoping for, causing Coach Briar to smile. `You have the legs of a hooker -- joke intended -- so you'll do well as a prop for Luke, so you move over here'. And that was it. No longer did he have to fight against his wandering eyes because now his eyes were going nowhere. All he could see was Luke, both of them looking directly at each other, as Coach Briar had instructed. It didn't matter that there was a cold late-autumn wind blowing across the field pushing at his chest and prickling the skin on his legs uncomfortably -- in fact, this strengthened him. Yes, it hurt, but the whole team would be feeling the same thing, and he heard what Coach Briar had said about team-thinking. Standing there in the cold and withstanding it without flinching, it made him feel like a man, and he liked that Luke and the other team members could see that. But it didn't last -- after two minutes or so, Malcolm felt his spine slowly curling up and his arms start to shake slightly from the effect of the wind. He felt weak. For the next five minutes until they began their warm-ups, Malcolm had no idea what Coach Briar was telling them -- all he could focus on was Luke. And then, suddenly, he heard Coach Briar say `Go!' and all the players broke ranks to begin the warm-up. Malcolm was glad to have the chance to move around a bit. Yet, for what must have been only a millisecond, Luke remained in position, staring at Malcolm, legs apart, chest out, arms behind his back, neutral face. And in that millisecond before he joined the others, Malcolm was sure he saw it. Sure that he saw the corner of Luke's mouth incline ever so slightly, just like at the welcome event, as if his thoughts were far from on rugby.
Little did Malcolm know that, from the 78th minute of the last game in the winter season, he would get to know Luke better than he could ever have imagined.