During a recent visit to Kilmarnock RFC for a minis festival, Scotland 7s’ Colin Shaw and Scotland under-20’s D’arcy Rae (both below, with the squad) also got to see the silky skills of a unique Scottish rugby team.
Now Colin will be making a return trip to deliver kit and join in a training session with The Clan – alias Trust Rugby International RFC. They are Scotland’s first registered unified rugby club and one of only a handful of such fully unified contact rugby teams in the world.
Unified rugby is where players with a disability train and play in the same team as non-disabled players, promoting equality, diversity and social inclusion through participation in the game. The Clan believe that by engaging in a team game like rugby, it can also provide an outlet for those who wouldn’t normally be engaged in sport, getting people with learning disabilities to get more active.
Shaw said: “I knew nothing of the team before I met them that day. I think it’s a great concept. Just speaking to the coach, he was saying that prior to the team forming 18 months ago most of the lads were struggling from a confidence side of things but since joining, he has seen a complete 180 degrees change in them.
“For me, a great thing for all these lads is having a team to be part of and team mates to spend time with. I am just going along to spend time with the lads and take part in their session.
“I'm also going to go through my bags of old kit and balls to give them.”
Meanwhile Clan coach Jamie Armstrong – a former player and now coach educator – explained how it all began.
He said: “I’ve been involved in social integration work for over 20 years, my wife runs an integrated dance company and through that I met with NHS Ayshire and Arran and asked if they’d ever looked at trying rugby for people with learning disabilities.
“We started two years ago with taster sessions and most of the team have been with us since then. We began training non-contact then started doing contact unified – that’s learning disabled and non-disabled in the same squad.”
The Clan now have a core of 28 players and hold twice-weekly training sessions – outdoors on Sundays at Kilmarnock and indoors at a local school doing skills and fitness on Mondays.
They’ve planted the seeds in other areas, too – they have groups in Tullibody, Tranent, have started working in schools in Renfrew and are working with an under-18 group in Kilmarnock. Jamie said:
“As a coach, it’s one of the hardest things you’ll do because you really are coaching all abilities and everyone has to get something out of it. It’s so rewarding though, both as a coach and as a player, to see the changes that can happen – for example, we had one guy come along who had never run, in his life, until he joined the team.
“The players vote with their feet, though – we’ve got 100% attendance.”
As the only competitive unified team in Scotland and with so few similar teams around the world – two in Wales, one in Ireland, one in England, one in Italy and two in New Zealand – the Clan have to go the extra mile when it comes to opposition. The club will be running a tri-unions festival from 16-21 June and have been invited to send a sevens team to Paris later in the year.
Jamie added: “Llanelli Warriors and Swansea Gladiators have been going for over 20 years. We brought them up here last June to play a round-robin tournament with an English team from Bradford and forged a relationship. We were also across the Irish Sea recently, courtesy of Ulster Rugby, and had a game in Belfast.
“The idea is that the Clan are a family and anyone can join – every area will have its own wee clan and we’ll come together as The Clan!”