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Inclusive Rugby Festival a resounding success for Wales' only Visually Impaired team

Community | 24th August 2021

Cardiff Rugby’s inaugural inclusive rugby festival has been hailed a major success as it showcased the “jersey for all” mantra at Cardiff Arms Park.

The event with Cardiff Rugby Visually Impaired - the first and only visually impaired rugby club in Wales - saw six clubs from across south Wales descend on the iconic ground for a unique touch rugby tournament.

Cardiff Chiefs (mixed ability) and Cardiff Lions (LGBT+) were among the teams in attendance and Cardiff Rugby Community Foundation director, Nadine Griffiths was delighted with the event.

She said: “It has been a fantastic day and just goes to show that genuinely there really is a jersey for all. We have such a mixture of males, females, a couple of kids, with a whole range of abilities and challenges. You can see everyone is having a great time at the Arms Park, the weather is lovely and sunny, so this is exactly what we want.

“Sport makes a huge different to people. A lot of the guys involved in Cardiff Rugby VI lost their sight later in life, which is very difficult to get to grips with and this really is giving them an opportunity to get back into sport when they didn’t think they could. 

“We have a number of players who played rugby through their childhood and youth but started to lose their sight and thought that part of their life had gone. But this allows them to take it back, stay involved and be part of a team and community.”

Cardiff Rugby VI were founded in the summer of 2019, following close collaboration with RNIB Cymru, but like all areas of society the club was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

However, that did not deter the club, who had already developed the close knit bonds and camaraderie associated with sport, and held regular online events until rugby could resume this summer.

Griffiths continued: “The team themselves have been instrumental and worked really hard throughout the past 18 months with Covid-19. Through the nature of their disability, they are actually a lot more isolated than most people but they organised weekly socials over Zoom, set a load of fitness and exercise challenges  to stay in touch and we’re now really progressing on with this program.

“It would be great to see the WRU and other regions to have a focus on VI because wouldn’t it be great if we all had a team and made days like this a more regular occurrence.

“It is all about making rugby accessible to anyone and everyone no matter what their background or ability. 

“We’re also about to launch a wheelchair rugby team, our mixed ability camps have been really well attended through the summer.

“We are making more and more impacts in our communities and that’s vital, particularly off the back of Covid. A lot of people have struggled socially and rugby plays a vital role in not only keeping people active but building friendships, support networks and just generally a welcome to the ‘rugby family’.

Cai Davies has been a member of Cardiff Rugby VI since the autumn on 2019, having missed the initial opening day, and is an every present figure at the club’s training and social events.

Davies was diagnosed with a brain tumour on his optic nerve at nine-years-old, which damaged 80 per cent of his eye-sight. 

He has always had a passion for rugby and is thrilled to not only get on the pitch but to build friendships with other like-minded supporters, who face similar visual challenges.

He said: “I missed the taster session they did in the summer of 2019 but came to the first session in November and trained until Coronavirus in March. 

“We had maybe five months of training and then 15 months off because of the pandemic, which was a real shame but we made sure we all stayed in touch. 

“During the various lockdowns we chipped in with various fitness challenges, a couple of quiz nights and general monthly catch ups. We had built a really strong connection prior to Coronavirus and wanted to maintain that and stay in touch. 

“It’s great to have kept that going before coming back to train and play again in recent months. We’re a small minority, people with sight-loss who like rugby so to be able to get together to share our love of the sport is great.

“Rugby is all about inclusiveness but we’re the only VI team in Wales. It would be nice to get a few more across the country so we can get more games but today just shows the beauty of the sport, the inclusiveness and the rugby community coming together. 

“The Cardiff Rugby Community Foundation have been brilliant right from the very start. All the the guys who have been involved have been so supportive, it really has been superb. 

“Owain Marchbank has started it back up and we’re having some really good training sessions, a great laugh, and it’s just great to have this community for visually impaired people in Cardiff.

“We struggled to get the wins against the other teams but we’re improving with every game and just having a really good time. We’re very grateful to Cardiff Rugby and all the teams in attendance for supporting us.”