Cardiff Blues Community Foundation held their first ever Visually Impaired Rugby Day at Cardiff Arms Park this week, as they continue to take steps to ensure rugby is an inclusive sport for everyone in the community.
The session was organised in association with the Change Foundation, RNIB Cymru and the UNA Exchange, which provided volunteers from across Europe to help out with the sessions.
The session began with simple drills to get those taking part accustomed to the balls, which have been specifically modified by Gilbert, before heading into a match of touch rugby later in the day.
There were also specially made glasses available which allowed the coaches an opportunity to have a brief taste of playing rugby with various levels of visual impairment.
Cardiff Blues’ Disability Rugby Officer, Jo Williams, was proud to launch another successful inclusive programme as part of the Cardiff Blues Community Foundation’s efforts, and she believes rugby is truly a game for everyone.
Williams said: “We’ve linked together with the Change Foundation, bringing in volunteers to help out and create an inclusive rugby environment.
“As part of my role I go to schools across the entire region, delivering within all five of the local unitary authorities. We’re proving that rugby is for everyone, and that there is a jersey for everyone.
“We created a full day of sessions specifically for visually impaired people who want to get involved in rugby, and it’s very similar to touch rugby because we didn’t want to deviate too far from the game itself.
“This is another step in the Cardiff Blues Community Foundation’s effort to show that rugby is inclusive for everyone.
“We’ve ran a series of events and programmes recently, including with Wales deaf, and while the challenges are different, the game remains the same and we all share the same love for rugby.
“We ran a Disability World Cup with the local schools and are looking forward to progress and develop these programmes in the future.
“It would be fantastic to get to a point where we’re able to set-up a Visually Impaired rugby team here at Cardiff Blues.”
Also in attendance was Gareth Davies, who now represents the England Visually Impaired Rugby side, having lost his eye-sight during his 20s.
Davies, who will travel to Tokyo next month to play in a series of exhibition matches, admits it became hard to adapt to life without playing rugby, but is encouraged by the initiatives available for people with visual impairment.
He added: “When you do lose your eyesight, it does have a massive impact on you, in terms of your sense of self-worth, well-being and mental health. It can become a sad and lonely place to be.
“I played rugby since I was a child, and up to my mid-20s and as my condition deteriorated I fell out of the game, but VI rugby has given me an opportunity to get back involved.
“It was a sad feeling when I had to give up rugby, because it’s something that’s taken away from you.
“Until I found out about visually impared rugby, it was something I thought I’d never be able to do again. There was a real sense of loss, because I thought I would never be able to engage in a sport that I love.
“The balls are specially created by Gilbert, and have small ball-bearings inside to make the ball audible. It give us an extra split second to see and understand where the ball is coming from.
“I feel very lucky to be selected to go over to play in Tokyo, so it’s really really exciting.”
One of those taking part in the session on Wednesday was Christian Hyde, who also used to play rugby before losing his sight.
Hyde said: “I’m trying hard not to cry by being back on a rugby field, and with right-minded people it’s special and emotional.
“I feel a sense of self-achievement by taking part in this session.
“When I lost my sight, I thought ‘oh well, that’s it.’ I could only enjoy the game from my sofa or from the terraces. But to actually be back on a playing field is something a bit special.”
For more information about the Cardiff Blues Community Foundation’s inclusive rugby programme, please click HERE