Visually impaired rugby lifts the spirits of players in Japan!

As Rugby World Cup organisers pulled out all the stops to get their crucial match against Scotland played at the weekend, another Japan team was battling to play their crucial match, this time against England. Visually impaired players from across Japan battled their way to Kumagaya Stadium, host to three Rugby World Cup matches, as the visually impaired (VI) version of the sport kicked off. Although England narrowly won all three matches played this week, the result seemed less important than the sense of hope created by this ground-breaking initiative led by UK charity, The Change Foundation.

 

“Everyone present knew by the end that this was the start of something big in Japan and it was fitting that, after an emotional weekend for the country, the rugby family opened its arms to welcome in a new group of players who had never had the chance to play before”, said Andy Sellins, CEO of The Change Foundation.

 

To round off the series in style, Japan’s VI team took the field for a slightly different challenge against a Wasps Legends team which included rugby greats Simon Shaw (71 England caps) and Serge Betson (63 France caps). The Japan team went into a 20-0 lead before the Wasps Legends team got a handle on the wet weather and fought back to win 20-29 but the result was not important compared to the boost given to his new version of the game in Japan.

 

‘I was delighted to be able to support this brilliant cause by putting the boots on in Japan. The Wasps Legends Charitable Foundation have done a great job supporting the development of this new form of the game and I think it’s brilliant that the rugby family is reaching out to players who up to now thought they could never play our great game’.

Simon Shaw – British Lions and England player and Captain of the Wasps Legends team:

 

Captain of the England V team, Jack Pearce, said: “It’s been an amazing experience. I never thought I would be playing rugby with other visually impaired people, let alone playing in Japan during a Rugby World Cup. This is great for visually impaired sport and it is was really moving to share the field with players who had a terrifying time trying to even get to our games’.

 

France and Wasps legend, Serge Betson, found the game very similar to the touch rugby he knows so well. ‘It’s basically a seven-a-side touch version of the game, played with a ball that makes a noise to help players locate it when it’s moving. The referee makes a bit more noise to help players locate their position on the field and for safety reasons they have uncontested scrums and lineouts but apart from that it felt just like rugby. It’s brilliant!’.

 

So what’s next for the development of visually impaired rugby? The Change Foundation in partnership with the Wasps Legends Charitable Foundation and the Vision Foundation will continue to set up adult teams and youth teams across England and also work across each of the Six Nations to develop the sport in their countries. There are also plans for a “Blind Lions” tour to South Africa to play the “Blind Boks” in 2021.

 

In the meantime, when the England players and coaches get home they will also be checking in with Ian McKinley, who helped prepare the team for Japan. Ian lost an eye while playing for Leinster in 2011 but went on to play professional rugby for Benetton and for Italy. He has been a great support in helping develop the sport to this point and his ideas on how the team played will be listed to with great interest.

 

 

For further information and interview requests with Change Foundation officials and VI rugby players and coaching staff, please contact Andy Sellins on +44 (0)7960 476733 or andysellins@changefdn.org.uk