The biggest impact on my rugby life
I have played rugby for near on thirty years at every level – from Sunday morning mini-rugby, to World Cup finals. I captained my country for over three years, and have been to countless events; appeared on television and radio programmes; collected awards, and so on, but I had no idea that in 2007, when I was asked to become involved with the Tag Rugby Trust, that this would become the biggest impact of rugby on my life.
I have talked passionately for years about the fact that rugby is inclusive, because it is a game for all shapes and sizes. TRT goes a few steps beyond this – using a version of the sport that is inclusive for all communities – people who would not previously have enjoyed the benefits of involvement in sport at all. I have been very fortunate to have travelled with TRT to Uganda, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, India and Mexico – I have seen first-hand the positive impact on communities, on schools, on community clubs and on individuals.
Lasting friendships around the world
There are so many things I could share regarding my own personal experiences – playing with the nursery-aged children at my first ever school in Uganda, the Army School; the feeling of immense pride in the first team that I coached in the schools tournament; the look of pride on the children’s faces when they were able to parade their school flag through the streets before a tournament; the wave of emotion coaching a group of mixed-ability children in Mexico; the lasting friendships made around the world; the complete sense of awe when attending an assembly in the biggest school I have ever been to, in India; being invited to an evening dinner put on by a community school in Zambia; listening to children joining together to sing at the end of a rugby session; parading round the pitch at the end of a tour tournament in India, in front of a huge crowd dressed as the London Irish Wolfhound mascot, chased by hundreds of excited children; playing a test match against Uganda Women; witnessing the successful integration of a deaf child from an isolated island to a specialist school, with similar children, and trained staff on the mainland…and the list goes on.
Rugby as the catalyst in life…
There is one story that I would like to share in more detail, a story that motivates me every day to continue to actively support and promote TRT…
In 2015 we took a playing group out to Uganda, which included a number of different rugby players from the UK as well as World Cup Winner Claire Purdy. At the end of our time there we played a full test match against Uganda Women, but during the week our invitation team, and many of the Uganda team, joined forces to deliver our community programme. In the mornings, we headed out in small groups to the community schools and, in the afternoons, Claire and I delivered some skills-coaching sessions to the Uganda Women.
One of the Uganda team was 25-year-old Nakayiza Christine, and I was able to have a long chat with Christine one evening during the week that we were spending together. I always knew that rugby had a positive impact on my life, but what Christine said to me really brought home the immense power that it really does have.
She told me that rugby gave her the reason to live her life in a different way, and to make different choices. She told me that rugby gave her the courage to put her hand up, and to state that she is not becoming a young mum like countless others before her. To Christine, Rugby is not just a sport, not just a bit of fun on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Sport, and rugby specifically, is her reason, her courage – the catalyst in her life to do something different. Without the influence of rugby on her life I would have been speaking to a very different Christine, and that thought stays with me every single day.