I have no idea how I came to find myself in a gym in Gravesend one Wednesday night a few weeks ago; I suspect the contact was made through Twitter.Having travelled the other side of the water I was there to learn all about Wheelchair Rugby 7’s.
Now I confess I’ve never watched the ‘murder ball’ version of the game; I believe it’s played with a round ball and doesn’t look much like rugby. But I have watched a fair amount of Wheelchair Rugby League.
I first watched the league version of the game i a very similar gym up in Bolton; I couldn’t believe how brutal it was! Chairs crashing into each other with real ferocity! I thoroughly enjoyed it! I was really surprised at the end of the game when 2 players from each team stood up and walked away.
In WRL in a team of 7 you can field 2 able bodied players; in this case one of the lads, Jack played had started to play because his Dad was in a wheelchair; it meant he could play with him. For Jack his choice to play the game was a huge success as he became an England player.
WRL looks very like able bodied rugby, it’s played with a rugby ball, the ball has to be passed back and although it’s played with tags, goodness it’s physical!
When I arrived in Gravesend what I saw was actually a WRL session; being coached by Jason Owen; my contact for the evening. This was just the warm up for the Rugby 7’s session. While things were changing around I had a chat with a few of the players.
The game is played with a size 3 or 4 rugby ball, and welcomes all ages; in an almost exact opposite to the league version the odds are switched to 2 disabled 5 able bodied. I spoke to Daniel; he’s a teaching Assistant at field School; working with special needs kids, Warren a Cover teacher for PE in his school, he’s in charge of rugby at the school.
I was very interested to know how they’d come to be playing the game; Jason had taken the chairs into school and both men who play running rugby were hooked from there. Tom joined us ; he’s in the midst of a 2 year coaching & fitness national diploma and had seen the game at college.
Jason is clearly the driver for this club; he’d been at the WRL World Cup Final in Medway in the Summer of 2013 between England and France. I was at the same game and I can confirm it was full of skill, passion and excitement. That was when Jason learnt that able bodied people could take part as an England player simply got up and walked away.
He took the idea of setting a club up to Gravesend Rugby Club and they got fully behind him in spite of the fact it was rugby league; they were happy the game was played with a rugby ball! During their first year the Dynamite club attracted 40 players and excelled in its first year.
We are still talking league here, Rugby 7’s came about when he RFU trials took place in Liverpool; the club sent a few people along and much to their surprise 2 were picked to play for England in Italy! 3 others were picked to play for the Barbarians and played in Liverpool a few months later.
And so the version of the game that is much more akin to rugby union came to Gravesend; so how does it differ? Well there are scrums in Rugby 7’s! 3 chairs a side line up one behind the other; the ref shouts Legs, Rails, Push as the teams face each other they push as hard as they can; the ball is placed on the ground and is ‘hooked’ back with a closed fist.
Line outs are also a part of the game with the chairs lining up next to each other as teams would in running rugby. For a tackle to be made 2 chairs have to ‘hit’ the opposition player and stop the chair. One of the younger players, George was really agile in his movement if that makes sense? he was using his skill in the same way as he would in running rugby; he was good at evading those tackles!
The game starts with a ‘kick off’ and teams are penalised for crossing, the ball is touched down to score a try ad then a conversion is attempted. So, although I haven’t seen murder ball I know Rugby 7’s is far more akin to the running rugby many of us watch on a regular basis.
It was great to see the competitive nature of the game, considering these were team mates, when they were split into teams they all wanted to win; from the youngest player Patrick at 12 to father and son Kenneth and Cormac all were making a great effort to do their very best.
At the end of the session there was a quick WRL session; but without tags for all, it was quite funny watching the guys put their imaginary tags back on, as well as determination there was a lot of laughter had all round.
I managed to speak to Tony, an amputee at the end of the session; he’d lost his leg working as a commercial contractor working in humanitarian mine clearance in Lebanon ; his life changed on November 25th 2006- 2006 as a booby trap was set off as he walked away.
Tony had played running rugby and carried on after his amputation; that proved impractical after an accident involving another player. He was looking for a team sport and came across the Dynamite Club; it was clear he was loving being part of the team and playing Wheelchair Rugby in both of its guises.
In a id to spread the word the game is holding an Open Day in Rugby on November 16th with an Introduction session followed by an England v Barbarians match. If you’re anywhere nearby I can highly recommend that you go and see what you think. The day includes a taster session – take gloves, strong shoulders and determination!