Ralph Darling isn’t throwing out his rugby boots just yet.
After the Meads Cup final on Saturday, his 109th match for the Old Golds, the veteran North Otago prop told media it could have been his last.
“I reckon it probably was,” he said.
“I’m getting a bit old now and the jerseys are getting tighter and tighter.”
But he has not made any decisions yet and is looking forward to spending more time with his family when he finishes a New Zealand Heartland XV tour of Fiji this month.
“I’m just going to have the summer off [rugby] then see how we are looking for next year,” Darling said.
“There are some good boys coming through. I really don’t know – it would be a nice way to go out.”
The 33-year-old said the camaraderie kept him playing each year.
“Every year there’s a new bunch of guys. I’m still in contact with guys from every single year that I have played.
“I have made a lot of friends, not just from North Otago, but the other teams.”
The support from the community also helped the small North Otago union to punch above its weight – especially this year.
Darling said the culture in the team this year was similar to that in 2010 – everyone played for each other.
“With so many new guys there was so much excitement in the team this year. It was good to put it together in the final.
“It was awesome to do it on the biggest stage that we could.”
And that drop goal?
He was just in the moment.
“We trained that all week with [Mike Williams] in the pocket and when he duffed it I thought ‘we are still in with a half a shot here. We’ll see how we get on’.
“I don’t know what I was thinking, really. If I missed, I wouldn’t have been running out for the second half, probably.
“Lucky it was Lemi there to pass it back to me – [Robbie Smith] would have wondered what I was doing back there.”
And it was not Darling’s first, having slotted one for Old Boys in the Citizens Shield final in 2008.
North Otago coach Jason Forrest said the drop goal “never looked like missing”.
“That’s Ralphie. He plays off the cuff a fair bit and we give him the freedom to do that.”
Darling was one of five North Otago players to be selected for the New Zealand Heartland XV to tour Fiji this month.
Josh Clark, Meli Kolinisau, Robbie Smith and Patrick Pati have also been named in the side to play the annual fixture against New Zealand Marist, and two matches against Vanua XV in Fiji.
Former Waitaki Boys’ High School pupil and Waimate first-five Miles Medlicott was also selected.