In the first-ever international series of blind rugby, the touring party return home victorious with a 3 – 0 series win against the blind and visually impaired New Zealand team. Unlike the Lions tour there were no expectations of how the series would go due to the infancy of the game but like the Lions the tourists roared to success.
The first test took place at the QBE Stadium, North Shore with a great crowd including five Lions players; Dan Biggar, George Kruis, Peter O’Mahony, Justin Tipuric and Iain Henderson. The tourists had a strong start but went down to six players with no replacement after the first half. The defence stayed strong not letting any New Zealanders put a score on the board. The touch game based around the Rugby 7’s format saw both teams approach it with no fear but the UK blind and visually impaired team were victorious with a 31 – 0 win.
Welsh international and British and Irish Lion, Dan Biggar said:
“It’s an honour to be here on this historic occasion. The lads have done a great job with a huge win in the first-ever international game. It had everything a rugby match should; passion, fierce rivalry, great tries and some incredible kicking which was amazing to see.”
The UK blind and visually impaired team played the second and third tests with six men against seven with reduced time for each half as agreed with the New Zealand blind and visually impaired team. But the unity and excellent communication of the team saw them win the remaining two matches and they made history winning the first international blind rugby series.
Top points scorer Jake Walker, scoring 46 of the UK blind and visually impaired teams points said:
“I’m buzzing to have scored a hat trick on debut! 3 – 0 whitewash is just incredible. This is the best experience of my life with a talented group of players, all with different sight impairments. But we came together and understood how to use our sight as a team. Thank you The Change Foundation for a life changing experience.”
Jake became blind in his right eye eight years-ago after being attacked by a group of young men after a New Year’s Eve party. It was confirmed after the attack that he would never regain his sight.
Blind Sport New Zealand launched the tour with a ‘dine in the dark’ dinner experience for all players, supporters and staff. Dan Shepherd of Blind Sport New Zealand said:
“This is an exciting day for rugby and an exciting day for blind and low vision sport internationally. Today the group of players in this room launch blind rugby and make rugby accessible to a new community worldwide. At the first test, six year old Isiah will run out the ball, he is visually impaired. He attended the first blind rugby training session in New Zealand a few months ago but couldn’t play with the adults. But he left with a dream; he could one day become a blind All Black, he could one day stand in the haka and one day could wear the captain’s armband.”
The Change Foundation launched the new blind sport ahead of the third test of the Lions Tour of New Zealand. A team of blind and visually impaired players from the UK travelled to Auckland on 2 July to play the three match series against a blind and visually impaired New Zealand team with the aim of launching a new blind sport and raising awareness of the diversity and inclusivity agenda of rugby today.
Over the last 18 months UK charity The Change Foundation has been piloting the game with two youth and adult clubs in London, developing the rules, equipment and players to create a game based around the Rugby 7’s touch format. This allows the game to be safe and accessible. The game-play takes into consideration a wide range of sight conditions whilst maintaining the fundamental codes, laws and spectacle of rugby to both the players and spectators. The charity has also developed a ball that makes a sound when travelling in the hand and when in the air. Filled with ball bearings this generates the noise to help the players hear the ball when it’s moving. Whilst players are able to keep track of the location of the ball due to its sound, one of the key aims for coaches involved is to ensure there is a well-developed verbal communication system amongst players. This will allow them to fulfil their potential as players and perform at the highest possible standard.
What’s next for blind rugby?
After the tour, Andy Sellins CEO of The Change Foundation said:
“This is another step for the world of rugby, welcoming a new group to the family. The success of this series is just the start. The main plan will be to have the first blind rugby world cup four years after Japan. But we don’t underestimate the social impact; it will enable us to create much more awareness of the skills of the visually impaired community and change perceptions.”
After the Lions Tour of New Zealand, The Change Foundation will focus on developing the game in the UK working with Premiership and Championship clubs such Wasps, Harlequins, Bristol and Leicester Tigers. Alongside this the charity will be raising awareness of the game by delivering:
- A blind rugby demonstration during the Six Nations tournament in 2018
- A blind rugby demonstration at the World Rugby 7’s in San Francisco in 2018
- A blind rugby conference and demonstration at the Rugby World Cup in Japan 2019
- A blind rugby Six Nations in 2019
Thank you to our sponsors QBE, Greater London Fund for the Blind, the Blind Foundation New Zealand, Packaworld and Canterbury.
6 July 2017:
First blind rugby test at the QBE Stadium, North Shore, Auckland
Score: 31 – 0 to UK Blind team
8 July 2017:
Second blind rugby test at Grammar TEC Rugby Club, Auckland
Score: 17 – 7 to UK Blind team
9 July 2017:
Third blind rugby test at Grammar TEC Rugby Club, Auckland
Score: 28 – 5 to UK Blind team
For more information contact Si Ledwith, Head of Programmes on firstname.lastname@example.org.