Well worth a try ... the gentle joys of Walking Rugby
Friendly faces and a blast of autumnal sunshine greet me at the Clifton Lane ground where men and women, young and not so young, meet on Thursday evenings to have a game in the fresh air (or indoors at Rotherham Leisure Centre in the dark nights).
Numbers at the Walking Rugby have dropped off since Covid, the pandemic that snapped so many people out of good habits.
A good habit Walking Rugby most definitely is.
“It gets you moving, it’s good fun and, importantly it's free of charge,” says Julie Watson, from the Rotherham Titans Community Foundation which puts on the sessions and sends first-team players to get involved.
“Any age, any ability. As long as you can walk then you can play Walking Rugby.”
Still, I’m a little nervous as I wander out onto the pitch.
“Have you played rugby before?” I’m asked.
“Yes,” I reply. “When I was 14.”
This is nothing like the rugby I knew then.
There’s no scrums, no lineouts, no crunching tackles and no cauliflower ears.
You simply pass the ball to a team-mate with the aim of working your way to the try line. You tackle by placing both hands on either the arms or the waist of an opponent. At that point they must pass the ball. Simple.
Rotherham rugby players get involved in the sessions and this one is led by Callum Bustin.
He separates us into two teams and the action begins.
It takes a little while to get the hang of it but a few minutes in I start to get my bearings and even manage to score a try.
No running is allowed, obviously, but one member of the opposite team, called Craig, is like a whippet. I can’t catch him. He uses a sort of power walk to slip your grasp.
We take a break and I speak to the oldest of the group, Anne Coggins, aged 71.
“I like the physical exercise, the social interaction and the fact we get to know the players better,” says Anne. “All ages, abilities and sexes can play Walking Rugby. It also makes you think, so it’s brain training as well. But we do need more women to get involved.”
The youngest of the group is Ben Bartlett, aged 21. He’s drifted away from full-scale rugby but Walking Rugby has kept his hand in.
We re-start the game and there’s an unexpected bit of skill from the 57-year-old Beddows.
Our team is on the attack and I deliver a cute little reverse pass to a team-mate and we eventually score a try.
“Great play Dave,” says team-mate Jamie Cooke, a real, proper rugby player working his way back from a serious injury.
It’s the highlight of my night.
As already touched on, Walking Rugby is good for body and mind.
Instant friendships are formed and there’s the glow of doing gentle physical exercise. A glance down at my fitness tracker shows my heart ticking over at 98 beats per minute.
Another debutant, Mark Gabriel, has also worked up a sweat. “It’s such a good thing to learn, a good thing to experience,” he says.
The match even has a spectator in the stand in Richard Watson, a 63-year-old sidelined by injury at the moment. “Once the hospital have me sorted then I’ll be back to it,” he promises.
As I turn to head for home, it strikes me Richard’s enthusiasm is perfectly understandable.
Walking Rugby is something of a hidden gem in the fitness world and it’s here, right on our doorstep in Rotherham, and it’s free. What’s not to like?
Walking Rugby runs 5pm-6pm on Thursdays. All welcome. More at email [email protected] or 07715 921723.