Crouch, bind, set… at your own pace
Guest Writer Donald Walker introduces a new form of the oldest rivalry in rugby
As the annual Calcutta Cup fixture comes round, the history of the famous match will be recalled as folklore and legend combine to create the heady mix that makes a Scotland v England rugby match one of the most anticipated encounters in sport.
Last year was the 140th anniversary of the first time the trophy was played for, and next year will mark the 150th anniversary of the first ever international rugby match, between Scotland and England at Raeburn Place.
Could 2020 be added to this fabled timeline?
On Saturday, what is believed to be the first ever walking rugby ‘international’ will take place in Cumbria, when Scotland (aka The Uncoachables) take on England (The Auld Greys) at Kendal Rugby Club, as a curtain-raiser to the big Guinness Six Nations match from BT Murrayfield on the clubhouse TV later that afternoon.
Walking rugby? Surely not. Or, as some wags will say: ‘What’s the fuss? We’ve been playing rugby at walking pace down at our club for years.’
It is commonplace for mention of walking rugby to be met with laughter or derision. Walking football received the same reaction when it first emerged, but the game has become phenomenally successful over the past decade, raising participation and activity levels in the over-50s at just the point where sport and exercise have tended to drop out of people’s lives.
A thriving set-up has been built in Dalkeith, the fruit of an initiative launched by the Ageing Well team at Midlothian Council. Games take place every Friday afternoon, followed by a warm-down and then a hot drink “and a blether”. And while those taking part are a mix of those in their 50s and 60s, there is room for all senior ages, as demonstrated by the involvement of former Lasswade player and local referee Charlie Adam, now 76, and voted joint player of the year.
“I think walking rugby could grow arms and legs, just like has happened with walking football,” says David West, a health walk co-ordinator with the Council and the baby of The Uncoachables 20-player squad at just 42 years young.
“The trick there was to get people active again after they felt they could not play five-a-side football any longer because they no longer felt able to compete, and it has worked.
“I thought the walking football model was a great one for rugby. I put the word out there, and it snowballed here in Midlothian, with great support from Dalkeith Rugby Club in helping us host the sessions. The game has created the social interaction that some of the players have missed since they stopped being active in sport. Some of our guys say it is the highlight of their week.”
For the uninitiated, walking rugby loosely translates into touch rugby without running, played by seven-a-side teams on a small section of a full-size pitch, and with regular breaks incorporated to take a drink and to stretch any tightening muscles. As with any game in its embryonic stages, there are differences in the way walking rugby is played in different parts of the country, and this makes Saturday’s international slightly tricky.
The Uncoachables play to rules which allow the team in possession to have five touches of the ball to attempt to score a try, whereas the Auld Greys allow unlimited touches until a team scores or makes an error. A combined set of rules has been agreed for this weekend, and somehow, a referee will have to make sense of it all.
“People say ‘walking rugby, that’s a terrible idea’ but if they give it a go, they find out it’s not as easy as it sounds,” says David.“You have got to use your brain, to work out the pace of the game and to be in the right place at the right time.
“There can be quite a lot of infringement, especially with offside. But the big issue is stopping players from running. It’s funny seeing players trying to resist breaking into stride. It’s not as easy as you might think!”
The organisers of The Uncoachables set-up in Midlothian are going to be involved in a steering group to promote walking rugby, with the aim of introducing the game to the rest of the country. But in the meantime, the focus is on the trip south to Kendal on Saturday, which could in itself bring the kind of exposure that will spread the word north of the border.
On Saturday, the teams will play for the Calcutta Quaich, and The Uncoachables will be resplendent in a set of polo shirts donated by Scottish Rugby. The Scots will also present their hosts with a signed Scotland rugby jersey, again thanks to Scottish Rugby.
“Since we first contacted the Auld Greys on facebook and proposed the match, the excitement has been building,” says David. “We will be going down there in our kilts, and while the Quaich will be gifted to Kendal RFC whoever wins, we hope this could become an annual fixture, with the
Auld Greys coming up to Scotland next year to play in our own tournament, hopefully with other Scottish teams taking part.”
And the final rule in the revised set drawn up for Saturday’s inaugural cross-border clash? “Have fun.” On that point at least, there will surely be universal approval.
The Auld Greys v The Uncoachables, Kendal Rugby Club on Saturday 8 February, starts 1pm
By Donald Walker