Cardiff Lions
Photo: Richard Lewis, Cardiff Lions RFC

Wales’ first inclusive rugby team hope to come out on top as it celebrates 18th year

Cardiff Lions were robbed of the 2020 title when the season was cut short by Covid

CARDIFF Lions RFC, Wales’ first LGBT+ inclusive rugby team, is hoping to win two league titles as the club celebrates its 18th birthday.

The club, which is based at the Diamond Ground in Whitchurch, is hoping to win the first and second divisions of the UK International Gay Rugby Southern Leagues.

The Lions, who are now one of three inclusive rugby teams in Wales, have a first team which currently lies second in a first division and a second team which is top of the second division.

The first team has won three out of four matches in Div One so far and sit only two points behind the Berkshire Unicorns.

Chairman Gareth Waters, 34, from Porth, Rhondda, said: “Our success has come down to a lot of stability by getting a core group of players and keeping them.

“Pre-Covid we were top of the league and won every match but the season was cut short. We didn’t win a full season so we want to try and win the trophy outright.

“It’s unfinished business and I think there’s a really good chance we might win.”

The Lions second team currently leads the Division 2 table with 20 points and has scored more than twice as much as any other team so far. This year is the first time the Lions have had a second team.

Recent results for the first team included 80-0 against the Bristol Bisons on January 15 and their second team won 43-7 on January 29 against the Reading Renegades.

Cardiff Lions playing against Northhampton Outlaws in October 2021 where they won 68-0. Photo: Richard Lewis, Cardiff Lions RFC

Coach Hywel James, 24, from Bristol, said: “I’m definitely proud. We’ve had so many players who have literally just picked up a rugby ball this season. I take pride as a coach in being able to say I’ve helped people improve.”

Mr James says their inclusive approach to rugby is helping the club succeed. “It’s the absolute commitment, the team bonding, passion, friendship and family atmosphere that we have together,” he said.

International Gay Rugby represents more than 60 clubs worldwide and aims to include more members of the LGBT+ community in the sport. The organisation represents both men’s and women’s teams.

Photo: Richard Lewis, Cardiff Lions RFC

How the Lions are helping make rugby more welcoming

Cardiff Lions currently have 80 members including 63 players, and accepts anyone into the team, regardless of whether or not they are part of the LGBT+ community. Around 30 to 40 of their current players had little to no experience before joining, according to Mr Waters.

Two members, Jacob Pendrey, 30, from Heath, and Owen Willians, 24, of Sully, joined in August and October 2021 respectively. They said that despite being new to the club, they quickly settled in.

“I’ve never played rugby before. I’m terrible at it but I still feel included. I wanted a challenge and I thought it would be good fun. The worst thing you can be in life is predictable,” said Mr Williams.

Mr Pendrey said: “I had a negative view of sport from school – especially team sports – but a highlight for me has been playing against the Kings Cross Steelers. I was given Man of the Match which surprised me. It shows you don’t need to score to become a valued team member.”

Many members said they joined the Lions because of the friendly and accepting atmosphere regardless of ability. Photo: Richard Lewis, Cardiff Lions RFC.

Mr Waters said that despite rugby being more inclusive than other sports, teams like the Lions are still necessary.

He said: “It’s needed because people have grown up with this lad culture around rugby, but we provide that safe environment for people to be whoever they want to be.”

“We have players who were turned off at a young age because they realised they were gay and felt pushed away. But we also have straight players who also don’t feel they have a place there.”

Cardiff is home to other inclusive sports teams including Cardiff Dragons, a football team. Image: Tom Bridge Photography, Cardiff Pride 2016.

The club is also looking to become more inclusive of transgender players, though it already has members who identify as non-binary.

“We’re still fighting for trans inclusion. Current WRU guidelines say that transgender players can only take part in touch tournaments and this is something we’re setting up now with a summer league,” said Mr Waters.

A highlight for Mr Waters has been seeing the second team improve over the season.

“It’s great to see the boys come together and grow in confidence each game. There’s no expectation or pressure for them to win,” he said.

“It’s just about getting that game experience. People can join us by contacting our socials regardless of your current ability or whether you’ve ever played.

“All you need is to turn up with a willingness to get involved.”