During what has been an otherwise difficult period for Welsh rugby as a whole, the country’s men’s and women’s deaf rugby teams have come back from Argentina the pride of the Principality.
Both teams won their respective competitions at the World Deaf Rugby Sevens World Cup in Cordoba.
The men defeated Australia 20-5 to successfully retain the trophy and make it three World Cup titles out of three, having won the two previous incarnations (15s was played in the inaugural 2002 tournament before the tournament switched to sevens in 2018), while the women saw off England 32-0 in their first-ever final.
Eight teams contested the men’s competition, split into two pools, and four in the women’s.
To be eligible, players had to have an average of at least 40 decibels of hearing loss across both ears. Random hearing tests are conducted at the tournament.
Wales and England were seeded, by virtue of reaching the final last time, and thus were kept separate in the pool stages.
Llongyfarchiadau anferthol to @WalesDeafRugby on winning both the men’s and women’s World Cups for the first time in their history❤️— Welsh Government Culture and Sport (@WGCulture) April 11, 2023
They've won every World Deaf event they've ever entered! 🏴 https://t.co/sMGEi6saFn
Wales were drawn with Japan, Fiji and the Barbarians in Pool A, while Pool B consisted of England, Australia, South Africa – who were coached by former Springboks head coach Pieter de Villiers – and hosts Argentina.
England, Australia, Wales and the Barbarians competed for the women’s title.
“It was a very good day, last Sunday,” said Wales team manager James Savastano, a teacher by profession, who has been involved with Wales Deaf Rugby since 2017.
“It was amazing that we won but if we can inspire half a dozen or a dozen people to come and join us, that’s more important to us as a legacy.”
Embracing the challenge
Wales women had already beaten England in the pool stage, 19-0, before improving on that scoreline in the final, with a 36-0 win over Australia and a walkover against Barbarians making it a clean sweep.
“To be fair to the girls, they stuck to the game plan. It does help when you get the ball from the kick-off and score in the first 30 seconds, it just calmed everybody down and it was a bit of procession from there,” said Savastano, about the final.
“It was the girls’ first opportunity to play at that level and they really embraced it.”
While missing their usual lynchpin, Llandovery’s Welsh Premiership stalwart Shaun Miles, due to family reasons, Wales’ men could still rely on quality performers like British Army player Ben Fulton and Sam Jukes.
They went into the tournament as favourites and duly delivered, retaining their status as the ‘Invincibles’ of the deaf rugby world.
“The two tournaments in Sydney and now in Argentina, the men’s side have never lost a game. We have played 11 pool games and six knockouts and won them all,” Savastano said.
“We are hoping we can be the good news factor that’s required and be the catalyst for greater things for Welsh rugby as a whole.
“The response has been incredible.”