Tempting the Player(3)

By: Kat Latham

Matt’s body unconsciously put itself on the pitch, right in the center of the action. His coach, on the other hand, didn’t.

As usual, Matt sat with the other reserve players on the wrong side of the touchline. He’d held this position so long, he was tempted to update his Twitter profile to say professional seat warmer rather than fullback. He’d warmed it so often that last year the team’s supporters had voted his bum the Legends’ hottest.

He spared the match clock a glance. Seventy-six minutes gone. Just four left to play, and his team were up by five points. Leinster would need to score a try to tie the match and a conversion to win it.

“Come on, boys,” he muttered. “C’mon, c’mon.”

His team didn’t need his touchline coaching. They were deep in Leinster’s half, threatening their try line. If Legends could score, they would leave the good citizens of Dublin weeping into their Guinness tonight. But all they really had to do was prevent Leinster from scoring.

Legends’ left winger fumbled the ball backwards, and Matt’s stomach leaped up to choke him. But he needn’t have worried. His rival for the fullback position, Alfie Hardwick, sprang forward and pounced on the loose ball a split second before a Leinster player flew through the air and landed on top of him. Safest pair of hands in rugby, Hardy was. The man had the distinction of committing the fewest errors in the entire league last season. Matt’s chest burned with the bizarre mix of relief and annoyance he experienced every time Hardy performed a brilliant feat of magic on the pitch. Happiness for his team, and desperation for Hardy to freaking retire already and give Matt a chance.

But as the Leinster tackler rolled away and Hardy pushed the ball back toward the Legends scrum half, hope bloomed where the desperation had taken root. Blood streamed down Hardy’s face. It gushed from his nose and out of a cut on his forehead. He had to come off, and someone would be chosen to be his blood replacement while the medics tried to stop his bleeding. At this point in the match, he would be off until the ref blew the final whistle.

Matt shed his jacket, slid to the edge of his seat and twisted to face his coach. Ruud Bakker glanced between his bleeding star fullback, the match clock, Matt and Sean—the younger reserve player two seats down from Matt. Cursing, Ruud-Boy swiped his hand in the air as if to say Get over here. “Oggie! You’re up.”

Victory. Matt sprang from his seat and rushed to his coach’s side. Ruud-Boy grabbed Matt’s shoulders and stared into his eyes, his vowel-flattening South African accent growing deeper from his intensity. “This is your moment, lad. You know what to do. For the team, for the fans—do it!”

Matt shouted, an indistinct, wordless noise of determination, eagerness.

“Good lad. Get on there.” Ruud-Boy swatted Matt’s arse and Matt jogged onto the pitch, slapping Hardy’s shoulder as they passed each other. Jesus, the man looked like an extra from a horror film. No way his nose wasn’t broken.

“Don’t let them get past you,” Hardy shouted.

For fuck’s sake. Obviously. Playing at fullback, he would provide the Legends’ last line of defense. But he could do more than simply preventing Leinster from scoring. As one of the quickest players on the pitch, he could slip through gaps between Leinster players and finally score the try that Legends had been threatening to score for the past five minutes. After five years of riding timber and only playing when Hardy’s seemingly bionic body was too injured or too unconscious to stay on the pitch, now was Matt’s chance to prove his worth to his club.

The team gathered around their captain, Liam Callaghan, all leaning in to hear Cally’s exhortations, all sweating hard and breathing heavily—all but Matt. “We’re going to win this, boys,” Liam said. “It’s just a matter of by how much. We’re going to take advantage of Oggie’s fresh legs and run the killer ball.”

Matt’s spirit soared. They’d run this drill hundreds of times at practices, but he’d never had the opportunity to do it when it counted. The play would put him right in the center of the action and likely end with him scoring a try. It was the biggest vote of confidence his captain could give him.

The match restarted with a scrum. Legends gained control and toed the ball to the back of the pack, where their scrum-half, Ash Trenton, bent down and snapped it to Cally, who ran a diagonal decoy to pull the Leinster defenders out of position. Legends’ two centers ran alongside Cally as if waiting to receive the ball, while Matt hung back and waited.

And here came the dummy. The outside center cut in, running toward Cally and drawing more defenders. Matt, completely off Leinster’s radar, sprinted dead ahead as Cally made a dummy pass to the center. Before Leinster could figure out where the ball really was, Cally popped it to Matt, who caught it without changing his pace. By the time Leinster realized he had the ball, he’d broken through the front line of defenders.

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