Walking rugby is tackling social isolation and a range of health issues in Cwm Taf Morgannwg, with more than 100 players braving the cold to take part in a tournament in Clydach Vale.
The event, staged at the Cambrian and Clydach Vale BGC Academy, was the latest in a series of walking rugby games and tournaments that are helping people boost their physical fitness and mental wellbeing. Since its launch in Cwm Taf Morgannwg in 2018, the sport has flourished, with 11 teams taking part in this month’s tournament, compared to three at a similar event at Sardis Road this time last year.
As well as Cambrian and other teams from Cwm Taf Morgannwg, players also travelled from Torfaen, Newport and Bristol to play for two hours, despite the biting wind. Staff and players from the WRU and the Cardiff Blues Community Foundation were also there, with former Wales international Morgan Stoddart taking to the pitch.
Walking rugby started as a collaboration with Shednet, which established Men’s Sheds for men over the age of 50 to get together, share interests and chat. The game has grown to welcome all ages, as well as women, and is regularly recommended by healthcare professionals to patients as a way of improving fitness and reducing loneliness.
Mike Gundry, 68, from Porth, took up the game after retiring. Mike said: “I’ve worked since I was 15, for 30 years as a bus driver then as a civil servant. When I retired, my neighbour told me he had started walking rugby with Cambrian two or three weeks earlier and I thought I’d give it a try. I’ve never played rugby, football or cricket – in fact I really hadn’t played any sport other than roller-skating as a child! – but I love watching rugby and this gave me the chance to give it a go.
“It’s the only means of proper exercise I do. We play twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays and it’s so enjoyable. My wife and I have a caravan in Narberth, and now I always have to get home on a Sunday so I don’t miss the session on Monday! The camaraderie is fantastic and I think walking rugby should be encouraged more.
“I’ve been telling friends from the caravan park about it and there are even plans to get something going in Narberth too. Morgan Stoddart is involved and we’re in the process of sending them the documents so they can set up a team there.”
Cwm Taf Morgannwg Director of Primary, Community and Mental Health Alan Lawrie said: “Groups like the walking rugby create an opportunity for people to meet socially, helping to reduce isolation and loneliness in communities. At the same time it’s an excellent opportunity to get some exercise and improve fitness, even if you haven’t taken part in sports for a while. The beauty of these clubs is that people of all abilities can take part.”
The tournament was the latest in a series of walking rugby events supported by the WRU, including a festival at the Road to Principality community event earlier this year. Ioan Evans, WRU Rugby Coordinator for the Cardiff Blues region, said: “The tournament went really well. We tried out some new rules and it was great to see 11 teams taking part.”
WRU Entreprise Manager Greg Woods added, “Anyone can play walking rugby, whether you’re a lapsed rugby player or new to the game. It’s a social, enjoyable activity with obvious physical and mental health benefits.
“There is clearly a growing demand for more walking rugby opportunities around Wales and we are working with the current groups and a wide range of other partners to not only cater for that demand but provide support to the volunteers running the clubs and work with others to set up new outlets.”