As next week’s celebration of community rugby draws nearer, we caught up with the oldest Mixed Ability rugby team in the world, Swansea Gladiators, before their game.
The Gladiators XV is an integrated rugby team of people with disabilities and their friends. Members of the team come from a variety of backgrounds and have a wide range of learning disabilities e.g. downs syndrome and cerebral palsy. Some have a sensory or physical disability. The senior team plays full contact rugby with passive scrums.
From the very beginning, the sides’ motto has been "Friendship through Sport" and the club have built their success on developing ability where only disability was noted before. That success means that this isn’t the squad’s first visit to the National stage, as Team Manager, Anthony Gemine commented:
“It’s been a massive achievement for the Gladiators and the mixed ability guys that play for us. It’s the second time we’ve played at the Principality now but it’s always a special occasion to play there and we’re really looking forward to it.”
“Last year, we played against Cardiff Chiefs and the Llanelli Warriors. We managed to get two wins so we have a 100% record at the moment at the Principality so it’ll be great to keep that going!”
He added: “The players are really looking forward to it and there’s a huge buzz around the training sessions! We have more boys coming to the gym now on Tuesdays and training sessions on Thursdays which is a huge positive for the club.”
Heading up the side, is Head Coach Matthew Gemine, who is assisted by Ieuan Stitchbury, Steve Joseph and Tom Lewis.
“For the squad, it’s great for them that they can play alongside their able-bodied peers, guys who are willing to give up their time to come and assist the guys, enabling them to take to the park and play full contact rugby. We do have a few that can’t kick or tackle, but they wear different coloured shorts.”
“What they like is the social side of the game, after they play, they all come together, all wear the Gladiators tie, everyone looks the same and there are no stand-outs.”
The success of the side also saw the Gladiators nominated and make the finals for best senior club or team of the year at this year’s Swansea Sports Awards.
“We’ve had a very good season on the whole. We haven’t played as many games as we would’ve liked but we have got a busy Summer schedule ahead of us. We have 12 games throughout the summer in different competitions.”
“We’ve played up in Aberavon Green Stars, Bonymaen, played the double over Worcester both home and away, Cardiff, Newport and Cwmbran.”
“We’ve also toured up to Scotland to play against the Stirling County Select 15. Whilst there we were privileged to play against the world's oldest rugby player, Easton Roy, well into his nineties and still playing! He’s an inspiration to us all, and proof that mixed ability rugby really does have a shirt for everyone. It was great game, which resulted in a draw after a try from Easton to tie the game.”
Before their busy Summer schedule, attentions turn to their game in the Mixed Ability festival at the Principality. Being the oldest mixed ability rugby side in the world, they now face the youngest side, when they face the Dragons All Stars.
“We don’t know an awful lot about our opponents next week, they’ve only recently been established. But we’re looking forward to meeting them, playing them, then afterwards having a chat and organising future fixtures. We’re keen to keep them involved and make sure they have games coming up, so we’re really excited to meet them.”
Catch the squad in action on Monday 29th April at the Principality Stadium, with the festival commencing at 4:30pm.