Countdown starts to Visually Impaired Rugby World Cup

Worcester Warriors host four team demonstration of high-quality action

The first steps towards the inaugural Visually Impaired (VI) Rugby World Cup took place at the former home of Worcester Warriors, with four teams clashing in a demonstration of the skills and thrill of the fast-moving sport.

VI teams from the Worcester Foundation, Harlequins, Cardiff Rugby and Wasps Legends all took to the field to show their running, passing, kicking and catching skills which they hope will lead to glory when the tournament is held in France  in October.

In 2016 The Change Foundation (TCF) helped to develop the game that, looks, sounds, and feels like any other rugby match, in order to encourage visually impaired people of all ages to take part in  competitive matches.

Now it has developed internationally with games taking place in New Zealand and Japan,  teams across England, Wales and Ireland, as well as in Italy where Benetton Treviso have become a new force.

Alex Bassan, TCF head of business development, refereed the Worcester matches which took place at Sixways Rugby, and has been instrumental in pioneering the sport.

“This year is going to be a big one for visually impaired rugby,” he said. “We have a game for England versus Japan on the horizon and then it’s the World Cup in France, with matches on the south coast.

“It’s a high-energy fast-paced and impactful sport – spectators who have not seen it before are amazed at how hard-hitting it is and the skill level of the players.

“We want to use the interest generated by the Rugby World Cup in France later this year to hold the first international visually impaired rugby tournament, promote the game and build on rugby’s strong pedigree of promoting social inclusion and personal development.”

VI Rugby is based around Rugby 7’s touch format, and the game-play takes into consideration a wide range of sight conditions whilst maintaining the fundamental codes and laws of rugby for both the players and spectators.

A ball has been developed that makes a sound when travelling through the air. Filled with bells, this generates noise to help the players hear when it’s moving.

Next month (April) TCF is working with French rugby authorities to establish a team.

Programme manager Ellen Rowley – who played for Wasps Legends at the Worcester event – is one of the team flying out to Perpignan for the initial sessions.

“It’s  great to be able to spread the word and give people the opportunity to take part in something which has international impact,” she said. “With the men’s world cup in France later this year and our tournament running alongside it, there has never been a better opportunity for visually impaired players to demonstrate their skills to as wide an audience as possible.”

England trials take place this summer with the squad then set to start training From October 9th to 13th the tournament will take place in Toulon.

Current England VI Rugby captain is Jack Pearce from Macclesfield.

He said: “Playing rugby for my country has been an amazing experience. I never thought I would be playing rugby with other visually impaired people, let alone playing in internationals.

“This is so aspirational for visually impaired people and it’s so cool to be sharing pitches and competitions with sighted players who just accept us as part of the rugby family”

Words: Nick Ames. Photo: Chris Smith-Langridge

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