THE LLANELLI Warriors celebrate their 25th anniversary with their most prestigious fixture to date and one that sees the launch of a new concept in mixed ability rugby.
On, Saturday, December 4, at Cardiff Arms Park, the Llanelli Warriors will be the first opponents of the Mixed Ability Rugby Invitationals club.
Back in 2017, whilst on tour, in a bar in Samoa, Warriors’ coaches Jamie Evans and Gwilym Lewis were discussing the concept of mixed ability rugby, including players with and without disabilities in the same team.
The Warriors were about as far away from Wales as it is possible to get and so conversation moved onto what else could be achieved.
The idea of an international representative side was dismissed as it would require qualification based on disability, something that is at odds with the mixed ability concept.
Instead an invitational side was discussed, a side that could reward players and clubs and so the idea of the M.A.R.I.s was formed.
With Gwilym achieving the double landmark of his 50th birthday and being the 1st person to play 300 fixtures, as well as it being the Warriors 25th Anniversary, Jamie decided to test the idea. Initially inviting players from sides with strong links to the Warriors and Gwilym, for a game at Burry Port the enthusiasm for the concept quickly became apparent. The WRU came on board and suggested Cardiff Arms Park as a venue and suddenly whole project began to momentum and prestige.
Jamie explains: “We talked about rugby experiences and some of the characters that we knew in the mixed ability community and a way of giving them and mixed ability rugby some recognition. For this first game the team will meet up the day before the game, train in Canton and stay at the Angel Hotel. Obviously it’s fantastic to play at the famous Cardiff Arms Park, and we also have a big night planned for afterwards.”
The game was initially scheduled for July, but Covid put paid to that.
The new date meant players from Swansea, Worcester and Scotland had to pull out, but by now there was a waiting list of interested parties. The final team features players from 16 clubs and 7 countries.
Betws, where Gwilym has played for 29 years, is the club with the biggest representation and it is a family affair with both his brothers playing and his son Dion captaining the team.
“Obviously I wanted to assemble a team that meant something to Gwilym. Betws don’t have a mixed ability team, but they are one of several clubs that are crucial to the Warriors. The mixed ability community couldn’t exist without sides like Betws and all the players involved have played in numerous mixed ability matches.”
The side will be coached by Jamie alongside Endaf Williams and Adrian Davies of Cardiff Chiefs. Although the Scottish contingent were unable to make the rescheduled date, there are plenty of different nationalities involved.
It may not be a surprise to see players from England, Ireland and even Italy represented but the team will also have representatives from further afield such as the Basque Country, Holland and Spain.
It’s hoped that the MARI’s will go on from this 1st game and become firmly established as an invitational club that helps celebrate important events in the mixed ability community.
The older clubs are celebrating significant anniversaries whilst there are new clubs forming across the globe.
There have been invitational mixed ability sides previously, but the idea that this team will be an ongoing concern is different. It will be something that players can aspire to. There is already a second match in consideration and so we hope to build from there. The Managers will change and players are unlikely to feature twice but a tradition will be built.
“It’s going to be a fantastic experience for all the players, coming together, a real melting pot of cultures. It’s also going to be a great experience for the Warriors, a fantastic way to celebrate their 25th anniversary. I think it’s fitting that we celebrate Gwilym’s birthday like this. He has been the driving force in establishing the Warriors, but has always looked to promote the concept of mixed ability rugby. He’s not only seen mixed ability rugby spread in recent years, but has been a significant part of that development.”
MARIs V Llanelli Warriors will kick off at 2pm on December 4, at Cardiff Arms Park.
MARI’s Squad to play Llanelli Warriors: Jamie Evans (Llanelli Warriors), Al Crawford (Derby MA), Andrew Nicholls (Longlevens), Ashan Sakandar (Bumble Bee Barbarians) (VC), Cellan Davies (Betws), Connor Rice (Dragons All-Stars), David Izquierdo (IMAS), David Vynke (Hesselse Herten), Dion Mitchell-Lewis (Betws) ©, Gareth Lewis (Betws), Gary Thomas (Dragons All-Stars), Harri Dineen (Cardiff Chiefs), Mark Goodwin (IMAS/Bumbles), Martino Corazza (IMAS/Chivasso), Oliver Reviriego Sierra (IMAS), Phil Wilson (Bumbles), Tom Wilson (Derby MA), Ben Winstanley (Sundays Well Rebels), Dylan Rees (Betws), Emile Van Hove (Dendermonde), Gareth Sullivan (Dragons All-Stars), Jez Wilson (Longlevens), Leon Taylor (Bumbles), Michael Whitaker (Bumbles), Mikey Hawkes (Derby), Owain Lewis (Pentre y Wig), Richie Griffiths (Betws), Sam Prowes (Letchworth Brave Herts), Tom Mcnee (Cardiff Chiefs), Oier Barruso (Geologicas)