A man from Cardiff joined the UK visually impaired (VI) rugby team in Japan for the Rugby World Cup, beating the Japanese VI squad in three consecutive matches.
Gareth Davies, 45, works for RNIB. He was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at 19 and was registered blind five years ago. A keen rugby player, he said he was initially devastated when his condition deteriorated. But in 2018 a friend encouraged him to join the UK VI Harlequins team in London and he has been playing ever since.
Gareth and his teammates spent most of the World Cup tournament in Tokyo. Though their first training sessions in the country were hindered by Typhoon Hagibis, the team won all three matches against the Japanese side by 26-0, 27-17 and 21-0.
Amongst the cheering crowds were ex-England player Simon Shaw and French rugby star Serge Betsen, who watched alongside Japanese fans.
VI rugby is much like the mainstream game, but minor changes are made to make sure matches are safe and inclusive for people with various kinds of sight loss. The ball contains small ball bearings or bells to make it audible, players perform two-hand touch tackles and scrums are uncontested.
The sport was established three years ago in London by The Change Foundation and it is now globally recognised. Italy, Scotland and New Zealand hope to establish their own teams and Cardiff Blues are setting up a VI squad in Wales.
Gareth said: “Playing as part of the Rugby World Cup was an incredible experience. We were overjoyed to win all three test series and it was amazing to meet and play against the talented Japanese team.
“I want to show that losing your sight is doesn’t have to get in the way of playing the sport you love. Many of our players used to play mainstream rugby before losing their sight. No one should be afraid of giving it a go and the benefits – like improving your physical health and being part of a team – are really important. I hope that this is just the start for VI rugby on the world stage and that there will be many more VI teams competing in the next Rugby World Cup. Maybe a Welsh team will also be ready to take part!”
The Cardiff Blues Community Foundation have launched weekly rugby sessions every Tuesday evening 5pm – 6pm at Cardiff Arms Park for people with visual impairments to encourage more people to take up the sport in Wales. The aim of the sessions will be to eventually build enough interest to start a Cardiff Blues V.I. team, the first of its kind in the country.