A man who grew up in Llangybi, who thought he’d never play competitive sport again after suffering a brain injury, has won a trophy at a mixed ability rugby tournament.
Peter de Klein grew up in Llangybi, Ceredigion, and then went to school in Aberaeron, graduating in 2002 before moving to Gloucester.
Having played rugby with the school and having a few games for Ceredigion he carried on playing for local teams around his new home town but, seven years ago, a brain injury put a stop to that.
But last week, he played with his Longlevens Griffins teammates at the third International Mixed Ability Rugby Tournament, held in Cork.
They joined 1,100 other players from countries like Argentina, Chile, Spain and Italy as well as the Swansea Gladiators and Llanelli Warriors.
Peter said: “Seven years ago, I suffered a brain injury, as a result of a bicycle accident. I had to undergo facial surgery and quite a period of recovery even before I could return to work, let alone any kind of physical activity.
“I had thought rugby would be out of the question. My local team, Longlevens, sent out messages to all their contacts about five years ago, asking if we could attend a demonstration of mixed ability rugby.
“My wife dragged me along and, my prejudices meant I’d expected some sort of soft tag style rugby with smaller pitches or foam balls.
“What I saw was as almost exactly what I’d played only a few years earlier. There was no contest in the scrums but everything else seemed to have the same edge and competitiveness I so enjoyed.”
He added: “There are players in the team who struggled initially with the contact or needed time to mentally prepare before a game or a social occasion but, as with everything, practice changes you and now, some of the timid souls that would be nervous of touching team-mates with the ball are now dragging the opposition to the ground or driving hard through hits.”
Peter is married to Catrin, an Aberaeron girl he met in school. They have a five-year-old son called Rhys.
He works for Lloyds Bank looking after vulnerable customers who have been scammed, and believes getting back to playing rugby helped him get the job to some extent because he could show real life experience with some of the community’s most trusting and vulnerable adults.
The Longlevens team celebrates their plate final win (Catrin de Klein ) (Catrin de Klein)
After attending the opening ceremony at Munster’s Musgrave Park for the tournament that had been delayed since 2019 due to Covid, they played their first game on 5 June, and Peter gives his account of their progress.
“Our first game on Monday gave us a chance to test ourselves against the Bainbridge Barbarians (from Ulster) and we showed them that we hadn’t just come for the music.
“We won with some big tackles preventing their bulky pack from gaining the advantage and used the pace of our backs to slink through the gaps in their defenses.
“The next day, we got the chance to take on Swansea Gladiators in what was (slightly biased opinion) one of the most competitive games of the tournament.
“A narrow 14-15 loss had made getting top of the group was going to be a struggle but we had a chance if we beat URA Clan, from Spain, in the afternoon.
“With Cork being a coastal town, the weather can fluctuate and the morning’s sunshine gave way to some pretty horrendous rain.
“There were some squad changes and we started slowly giving away a soft try that ended up being the difference as we lost 0-7.
“That meant we weren’t going for the Cup but the Plate final was our target and there would be two tough challenges before we got there.”
He went on: “Our final quarter was against the Halifax Magpies who started strong and used their muscled pack to control the midfield.
“Having taken the lead with a speculative run, we managed to hold it until half time and eventually scraped a win 27-24.
“The Plate semi was against the Surrey Chargers and it was definitely a niggly affair. There were a few high tackles early on from both teams meaning tempers were more frayed than we’d have liked, we won that but, as is the way with rugby, a few beers were bought to make amends for the on field activities.
“Our final was against Edinburgh who came with a lot of support and a big reputation. They used the tactics Mixed Ability Rugby offers with lower physicality players trucking the ball up and reducing our opportunity to jackel.
“When we did get hold of the ball, our excitement showed with attempted off loads and 20m passes being attempted despite the strong winds.
“We went in ahead at half time and the talk was about the years of building up and the brotherhood we’d formed. The team managed to generate a bit more pace in play and we scored two more tries to win 15-12 and finish the tournament as Plate Winners.”
He added: “The whole squad, along with the brilliant support staff had worked so hard for this with so many players, of all physical and mental abilities making big improvements since they began playing and we really made the most of that win.
“I can honestly say I would not have spoken to most of my teammates before I joined
“The MAR team, not because they’re scary people but because they don’t have the opportunities to integrate with ‘standard’ sports teams.
“This is not some segregated, sanitized game of rugby, this is proper rugby that anyone can take part in.
“People say rugby is a game for everyone but until I discovered Mixed Ability Rugby, I didn’t realize how true that was.”