- England Deaf beat New Zealand 3-0 in landmark series
- The series was the first of its kind in deaf rugby
- The deaf rugby player set to lead his country
'Phenomenal’ is how England Deaf head coach Sean Fletcher described his side’s achievement after beating New Zealand Deaf 3-0 in a landmark international series.
It is the first time any English side has beaten a New Zealand team 3-0 in a series and marks a huge step forward for England Deaf.
Founded in 2003 to give deaf and hard of hearing players the chance to play together and represent their country, the programme now has a men’s and women’s side and work to promote deaf rugby nationwide.
England Deaf's success has been in no small part down to the influence of Fletcher, who lost his sight in one eye as a player and wanted to find a way to give back to the sport as a coach.
After a historic series win, Fletcher looks back at where the series was won, and what lies ahead for England Deaf.
“There were a couple of times where I thought we’d lost it,” says Fletcher, who joined four years ago.
“We won the first test at Blackheath 36-27 and that gave us momentum but it was the second match that was the real test.”
New Zealand had gone up 20-0 before England fought back to win 22-20 in a thrilling final 15 minutes.
“In other matches we would have potentially lost that, but they dug deep. You could tell how much it meant to the players in that moment. They didn’t give up.”
What an incredible 8 days to be involved in with such and awesome bunch of guys. So many memories made and the future is bright for @deafrugby thanks to all involved and all the supporters that have helped us along the way. #silentrugby pic.twitter.com/oKe16BbDQh— Aaron Beesley (@bagder1988) November 14, 2017
The old and the new
Fletcher’s squad for the series featured five new faces as well as some more experienced players including captain Luke Cheyne, who was born deaf in one ear.
Four of the side who played in the 31-18 victory in the third test at Barking RFC were profoundly deaf, including hooker Josh Page who has become central to the team’s success.
“We had that mix of the old and the new which made a massive difference,” said Fletcher.
“When new players come into the squad we get them used to our communications systems. We have to cater for a wide range of hearing levels so we have to be very clear in our systems.”
The team had two interpreters during the series who Fletcher relies on heavily during training and on match day.
“When the team comes into a huddle they create the shape of a horse shoe with our interpreter Mary next to me.
“The profoundly deaf players will often stand next to each other in the huddle and they help each other if any call is missed.”
Ambition and Inspiration
Just a few days after the momentous victory and Fletcher is already looking ahead to what lies ahead.
“I hope the series win helps raise the profile of England Deaf to help inspire the next generation of players, that’s the main purpose of what we do.”
Last year they opened a centre of excellence in Devon and over the next year they have plans to continue to spread awareness of deaf rugby.
With New Zealand well beaten, attention now turns to England's old rivals Wales who have been the most dominant side in deaf rugby over the last decade.
The two sides are hoping to meet again early next year with Fletcher hoping the side kick on in 2018.
"I think this series has helped us realise how important success at the top can help raise awareness of what we're doing.
"To think how far we've come in the last four years is amazing really and we want to keep that going."
Find out more about England Deaf by visiting their website here.