Warriors spread integrated message to a global audience

South Wales Guardian: WARRIOR CLAN: The Clan from Kilmarnock play their first ever match against the Llanelli Warriors last summer. WARRIOR CLAN: The Clan from Kilmarnock play their first ever match against the Llanelli Warriors last summer.

As the country gears up for the England versus Wales clash this weekend the Llanelli Warriors head across the border to Bradford for an international fixture of their own - but for once it will be the off field events which are of greatest importance.

The Warriors will be taking part in the fourth H Bomb Trophy match, aiming to retain the title they claimed last March.

Big as the clash will be for the Warriors, with international pride at stake, it will be the performance itself which matters most.

The match will be watched by representatives of European rugby’s governing bodies and observers from Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy to see first-hand how integrated rugby works in the hope of developing the concept across Europe.

The idea of integrated rugby – where teams are made up of mixed ability players including those with learning disabilities - that has grown up in west Wales on the fields around Bridgend, Swansea and Llanelli - and the concept is now taking hold across the British Isles.

The Swansea Gladiators are the oldest integrated club - following the demise of the Bridgend team – while the Warriors themselves boast a proud history spanning almost 20 years.

Warriors’ coach Gwilym Lewis, who skippers Betws seconds, contacted college lecturer Mark Gooders after reading that he was involved with a group interested in rugby.

Guidance was given that has now been formulated and in turn has been used to encourage other sides in Northen England and recently a team in Ireland.

The Warriors have been contacted by Italian Martino Corazza who secured European funding to come to the UK to see integrated rugby in action. When Carmarthenshire County council were unable to offer him a placement, Gwilym put him in touch with the Bumbles and he has worked from there to set up a conference this weekend.

Scottish involvement was secured when TRI Rugby Trust came across the Warriors.

After visiting the Warriors 7s tournament - and with local NHS funding - they began a programme to set up teams north of the border.

Last summer The Clan became the first Scottish integrated rugby side and kicked off their own Tri Nations tournament against the Warriors and the Bumbles. The Clan recently played a showcase match against the Swansea Gladiators in Ulster which generated plenty of interest there.

“There seems to be a real momentum behind this now” said Lewis.

“For years it was just us and the Gladiators. Then we found a similar team in New Zealand and colleges in Japan and Australia, but nothing on the scale it was being done here in Wales.

“The Warriors have always seen it as part of our role to promote opportunities for people with learning difficulties.

“That concept is something that the Bumbles have taken on board and it is paying dividends for them. Likewise in Scotland, TRI Rugby is pushing to set up teams around the country and the concept seems to have finally jumped the Irish Sea.”

The idea behind integrated teams seems simple – the team actively looks to include players with learning difficulties and develop their game and strategies around including them, then play other rugby teams, hopefully of a comparative level.

“However this is very rare in learning disability sport which is usually very segregated like the Special Olympics. In France integrated rugby involves a system of grading while in England it has been invariably touch rugby.

“As it’s played here, players take on non-disabled athletes and so get a chance to demonstrate their abilities in a way in which people can understand.

“Rugby is also such a multi-skilled game that there is usually a task for everyone. On top of that there is the tradition of post-match socialising, so it makes for a fantastic platform for integration.

“ Not that it was ever as pre-planned like that here, Wales is just such a rugby-loving nation that it was inevitable that people would find a way to get involved. It has happened organically and now we want to encourage that across Wales and abroad.”

The Warriors match will be preceded by a conference on developing and progressing integrated rugby. The Bumbles hope to host an international tournament alongside the 2015 World Cup.

On the field the Warriors face a tough task though. The H Bomb match will kick off at 11am on Sunday morning, not a good time for any side on tour.

The trophy has never been won away from home and the hosts are likely to have more players available on Sunday, including their Photo below - Neil Parker of the Warriors takes on the Bumbles team in Kilmarnock last summer (Tafa far left)

The Warriors will be led by second row Andrew Davies who has impressed in his first full season with the club.

“He’s a real presence both on and off the field,” said coach Lewis.

“He is a beacon in the line-out and while still raw, he’s getting around the field and developing his all round game.

“He has a strong rugby pedigree with his family all having played for Llansawel and he’s really enjoying his rugby at the moment.

“We may be travelling in hope rather than expectation but we will enjoy the experience and I know Andrew will have that attitude as well.”

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