The Sunday’s Well Rebels, Ireland’s only Mixed Ability Rugby team, travel to England next week to compete in the first Mixed Ability Rugby World Tournament (MARWT).
Twelve teams from seven nations will take part in the week-long event — more than 400 players are expected to travel.
“We are so proud to be the only Irish team involved,” says Rebels captain Danny Lynch.
Mixed Ability Rugby, part of a broader trend towards more inclusive sport, is a lightly modified form of the 15-a-side game popular in Ireland. The game was developed in Wales in the 1990s where two clubs formed, the Swansea Gladiators in 1992 and the Llanelli Warriors in 1995.
On each team there is an approximately equal split between “players”, who have some form of learning difficulties or physical disabilities and “player-facilitators”, who do not. The main rule change is that all scrums are uncontested. This removes the need for specialist front and second-row players and allows anyone to play in positions that would normally require years of training.
The Sunday’s Well Rebels were formed last year by Alan Craughwell, the day manager at the Cope Foundation, and Conor Farrell, a Cope physiotherapist and player for Sunday’s Well RFC. Together they approached the Sunday’s Well management with the idea of creating Ireland’s first Mixed Ability Team.
According to Craughwell, “Sunday’s Well have been nothing but open to the Rebels. From the start they’ve understood the idea and given us their full support.”
The sentiment cuts both ways: Sunday’s Well president Tony Mulcahy insists the Rebels have been a “breath of fresh air” to the club.
During the past year, the squad has grown to more than 30 players. They’re put through their paces by ex-Munster second row Maeve Darcy. and the support staff now include team managers Liam Maher and Ralph O’Leary, and a team medical officer, Ray Dennehy, who will join them on tour next week.
The Rebels have already had a profound effect on all the players’ lives.
“It gives the players confidence and it gets them out and socialising. The change in them is obvious,” says Craughwell.
Eddie Kelleher, whose son Lorcan is on the Rebels, is delighted he can now enjoy sport as much as his brother. “We now have two sons who are proud members of the fantastic rugby club,” Kelleher says.
Facilitator Brian O’Leary emphas-ises the feelgood factor: “It’s a highlight in my week. The lads are very enthusiastic; we are all just team mates now.”
The MARWT tournament is being hosted by the Bradford and Bingley Bumble Bees, England’s first Mixed Ability team. The Bumbles were formed in 2009 by Anthony Brooke, a player with cerebral palsy. Brooke wrote to the RFU after becoming tired of being told he had to play non-contact tag rugby. A lifelong rugby fan, he insisted he had a right to play the full-contact game. The RFU came on board but the team were unsure how to proceed until Gwilym Lewis of the Llanelli Warriors provided the Bumbles with an outline for the game.
“We were more than happy to support this pioneering venture in England,” says Chris Stone from the RFU. “Anthony is an absolute superstar along with the other founding members.”
Bumbles’ manager Mark Goodwin says: “We’re very grateful to the RFU for their continuing support.”
Martino Corazza, the international coordinator for International Mixed Ability Sports, who are organising the tournament, compliments the RFU for their openness. “They are one of the first unions to take this model fully on board and push for it to be rolled out. [To them] we are just another part of the rugby family.”
As well as the Bumbles, the Halifax Magpies and Castleford RUFC play for England. Trust Rugby International’s The Clan are the sole Scottish representatives. The two oldest teams, the Llanelli Warriors and the Swansea Gladiators, carry the flag for Wales. Travelling from further afield, CLARA Auvergne Rugby Adapted and Departmental Selection Pas-de-Calais (France), Chivasso Rugby ASD Onlus (Italy), and Gaztedi Rugby Taldea (Spain) round out the brackets.
While some of the teams have met before — The Clan played the Rebels in the Sunday’s Well grounds earlier this year — for many of the players involved, it will the first time they take to the field in earnest. It promises to be an exciting and ground-breaking week for inclusive sport.
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