Special feature: Is rugby really a game for old people?

Matt is 54 and he is playing rugby in a pair of white shorts, but the kind of rugby he’s playing is the ‘oldies one’. It’s not just a jibe at his age, he really is part of a squad signed up for the Oldies champs in Cork, Ireland.

Like Matt, there are now thousands of people around the world enjoying their oldies matches with long-time friends (or opponents). The main league referred to is the International Golden Oldies Rugby, which is linked to World Rugby, the international federation for the sport. They play with slightly different rules, but the game is still fun and engaging for everyone.

Oldies rugby team Oldies rugby team

For example, the white shorts Matt was wearing means he is between 35 and 60 years old. Each player has to show their age in order to let other players know how to deal with them. Players wearing white or club shorts cannot target players wearing red or purple shorts under any circumstances, including the ball carrier. A player wearing red shorts, in fact, will be between 60 and 70 years old; they cannot be tackled to the ground or pushed off their feet, but may be held, and once held must pass to another player not wearing red or purple shorts. Those wearing purple shorts are the oldest of the ‘oldies’, from 70 years old upwards; they can’t be tackled or touched, and they can run with the ball for up to 15 metres before passing it.

Golden Oldies Rugby is about participation, not about winning or losing. That’s why the rules are that lax, so all the players can play safely until the end of the match.  The essential purpose is to ensure equity for every player who participates - or wishes to participate - in Golden Oldies Rugby, despite physical capability or age. One might argue whether it is actually fun for them, but you have to remember one of the principles of rugby is fair play. “Rugby is a thug’s game played by gentlemen and football is a gentleman’s game played by thugs,” is one of the most famous quotes related to this sport; the oldies are such gentlemen.

Finale Video - 2016 Golden Oldies World Rugby Festival

The wonderful video from the boys at Media Mayhem - wrapping up the 2016 (21st) Golden Oldies World Rugby Festival. Held in Cardiff, Wales - August 21st - 28th. Including the Opening and Closing Ceremonies at the Principality Stadium, match days at University Fields and BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park.

The match organisers may decide that the guidelines are not appropriate to a given festival, or a specific match, and shall convey such to all participating teams prior to the starting of the festival.So, you can play with new rules sometimes, but this is part of the fun. Surfing the web, associations and groups of rugby lovers are everywhere, trying to spread their passion and hang out with likeminded people. Festivals and tournaments take place in Argentina, New Zealand, Ireland, Italy, etc. Through websites and social networks groups, oldies can get in touch, arrange a transfer and stay for the festival and then train for it.

“It’s a sort of holiday,” said Alberto, 48, from Italy, “In my team we look for interesting places - even strange ones - like India where we spent 10 days last year in a wonderful festival near Mumbai.” Alberto started playing in his 40s, before that he’d just watched it on the TV. The best part of Oldies Rugby is that you can enter a squad even if you’ve never played before. A lot of oldies start like Alberto, but they don’t face any difficulties, because they can easily understand the rules and soon get playing. The motto of the oldies is, ‘Fun, Friendship and Fraternity’, so even if you are not a pro in technique, you can always just have a good time with your teammates.

The oldies playing the gruelling game The oldies playing the gruelling game

Among the festivals, the place to be this year is Christchurch, New Zealand. From April 22 to 29 the Golden Oldies World Rugby Festival will take place for the second time since 1995. Teams can be entered, with all players aged 35 and over of course. The first World Festival was held in Auckland in 1979, and has been hosted in Long Beach, London, Sydney, Cape Town, Toulouse, Vancouver, Dublin, Mar del Plata, Adelaide, Perth, and in 2016, Cardiff, Wales.

Christchurch is a well-known spot in the rugby world, since numerous All Blacks have come out of this region. But in April it will also be a meeting point for old rugby-enthusiasts; players who will come from different parts of the world to entertain themselves and the public. Todd Blackadder, one of Canterbury’s great Rugby legends, 12-Test All Black, can’t wait to meet the squads. “Looking forward to being at the Christchurch Golden Oldies Rugby Festival in April 2018. A great place to play rugby with enormous rugby traditions. You can all be assured of a great time and a wonderful experience,” he explains on the official website of the event. It will be a great time on and off the field, keeping in mind that, “Fun, Friendship and Fraternity, [is] the Golden Oldies way”.

Words: Cecilia Mussi

Images: PA / Getty

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