Wheelchair rugby in a league of its own thanks to students
LAST summer saw wheelchair rugby union appear in the Paralympics Games for the fifth time in a row.
Now, one University of Gloucestershire student hopes the other code of the sport, rugby league, can join them on the big stage one day.
England won the first Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup in 2008 after beating hosts Australia 44-12 in the final in Sydney, and will defend their title in this country this year.
Unlike wheelchair rugby union, or ‘murderball’ as it was originally called because of its aggression, you do not need to be disabled to play wheelchair rugby league.
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The sport is also open to men and women, to compete against each other.
While many fans of the 15 and 13-man game bicker about which of their sports is more superior, wheelchair rugby league offers a blend between the two.
In fact, because of the similarities, wheelchair rugby league probably resembles rugby union more than wheelchair rugby union does.
This is something that has not been lost on student Matt Coldrey, who played both rugby codes growing up in Devon, and came up with the idea to start a team purely by chance.
“I was on my placement at the National Star College in Ullenwood as part of my course and I was working with Julian Ralph, who is the head of the sports department there,” said sports education student Coldrey.
“One day we were just chatting about the wheelchairs that they had lying around the place and we came up with the idea to start the team.
“Julian has been a great help with helping me to organise the team and sort out the loaning for the chairs from the college.
“I originally come from Devon where I played rugby union as a youngster and then took up rugby league at 17.
“I got into university for my rugby league talent, which I was not overly successful at, but my course of sports education gave me a real passion for physical activity.
“A combination of the modules helped open my mind to alternative activities and showed me how our society sidelines a lot of people just because of their physical ability.
“I constantly receive fantastic support from all of the lecturers, helping me with whatever I need.
“We are looking now to become the first ever dual code wheelchair rugby club, with talks currently taking place with the GBWR, the national governing body for wheelchair rugby.”
Coldrey, who is an experienced rugby league community coach, will head up the new University of Gloucestershire All Golds’ wheelchair rugby league team assisted by fellow students Dorian Ayton and Oli Murray.
To give people an introduction to the sport, the team will be holding their first taster session at Oxstalls Campus this Sunday between 11am and 1pm with anybody welcome to come along and try.
For more information, or if anybody is interested in taking part then contact Matt Coldrey on 07817 895573.
A sport that doesn’t distinguish according to disability
WITH rugby becoming ever more punishing on the body, the sport has seen a spate of retirements recently.
At the beginning of this month, Wales and Scarlets full-back Morgan Stoddart announced he was no longer able to continue playing after failing to recover from a serious double leg fracture.
In December, Gloucester lock Alex Brown said he has also been forced to hang up his boots due to a shoulder injury he suffered in the first match of the season against Northampton.
As well as the top level, the likes of Cinderford captain Adam Nicholls and Old Patesians’ openside Craig Ballinger are also taking breaks from the game because of injury.
Instead of quitting the sport entirely and suffering the pain of watching former team-mates run around every Saturday afternoon, there is still a way to keep active and use similar techniques.
Wheelchair rugby league uses the same ball handling skills as the 15 and 13-man codes.
The only difference is you can still take part even if you battered knees or worn out ankles, or perhaps if you have broken both of your legs, like Matt Coldrey has.
The wheelchair rugby league team organiser said: “Having broken both of my legs on separate occasions I would have loved to have had the opportunity to participate in some wheelchair rugby league to keep me amused, fit, and strong.
“I’m a competitive person and being out of competitive sport for over six months of my life was extremely frustrating.
“The great thing about wheelchair rugby league is that you don’t have to be a wheelchair user to play.
“It mimics its able bodied cousins of rugby union and rugby league so closely, and injured rugby players can use the skills and tactics they already posses.”
London Olympic and Paralympic Games chief Sebastian Coe said in his closing speech that the Paralympics had helped society change their attitudes towards disability.
Coldrey, whose mother has multiple sclerosis, says he is constantly inspired by what she achieves on a daily basis.
The University of Gloucestershire sports education student said that she might even give wheelchair rugby league a try.
“I wouldn’t be surprised!” he added.
“Her MS has given me a certain empathy towards people with disabilities.
“I see barriers to their lives everywhere, usually as a result of the ignorance of society in general.
“It’s strange when I think of my mum’s MS, because when I look or think about her I see a strong, independent, and clever woman.
“As soon as I think or am reminded of her disability I cannot believe how much she achieves despite it.
“Basically MS causes her to be tired all the time and makes it very difficult to complete everyday tasks.
“Her drive to get on with life regardless of the disability is a true inspiration to me.”