Worth a ‘Try’ this Year

Just before reversing out from the Intermarché car park in Monchique, I took a closer look at a man with these two beautiful dogs, who seemed to resemble a boy that I went to school with some 40 years ago just outside a small town called Thika, in Kenya. It turns out my intuition served me well that day; the man was exactly who I thought it might be – Simon Wilkinson. Of course, since our fateful meeting, we have become good friends!

Besides being extremely excited that another Kenyan was living in the Algarve, I was curious to find out why he was here. He and his wife Amy told me that they moved to Portugal after managing a ‘jungle’ eco-lodge in Tatai, in the Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia from 2011 to 2015. They have now settled in Monchique next door to the famous Barranco dos Pisões watermill and are busy renovating their property, which they hope to turn into local accommodation in the near future.

Before coming to Portugal, Simon was already a qualified rugby coach and was always looking for opportunities to play the game. A chance meeting with Ricardo Laginha of Clube Rugby Universitário do Algarve (CRUAL) and Miguel Eufrasio from Lagoa Rugby, when he first moved here, has allowed him to pursue his passion in the Algarve. Consequently, he has been training enthusiastic touch rugby players in Lagoa since 2017 alongside Dave Alger, a retired banker and now a qualified rugby coach, and Pedro Coelho. Pedro and Dave both run the coaching and referee duties, as well as sports and rugby sessions for younger players who have an interest in the game. Together these men all work in partnership with the Portuguese Touch Rugby Association to develop rugby in the Algarve.

Simon’s experience with rugby began in Kenya when he was 10. He describes his first experience of the game as “organised chaos”. Not put off by this, he represented his school (the same one we attended together), from 1986–1989, then played with Rutland College from 1990–1992 and Canterbury University from 1992–1995. He then went back to East Africa and played with the Kenya Harlequins and the Uganda Rhinos; he coached the Uganda National 7’s Team in 1996, after which he moved to Wales. 

In 2007, Simon received his coaching qualifications from the Welsh Rugby Union. He then went on to coach the Townhill Youth Team in Swansea from 2007 to 2010. At the same time, Simon worked as a detached (street-based) youth worker in Swansea and finally became an area manager in the Port Tennant district of the city.

In Cambodia, when not working in the jungle, Simon played with the Cambodian Sisowath Knights from 2011–2014. 

Here in the Algarve, he has played in several tournaments in the touch rugby league but most notably, he was selected for the Portuguese touch rugby senior national team in 2019. They played against England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland and he says, “It was a great experience and a real honour to represent Portugal.”

What is touch rugby?

This sport came into being in the 1950s and originated from Australia. Simply put, it is a gentler form of the traditional game as it involves no tackling. The aim of the game is still the same, to score more tries than the opposing team. A player claims a ‘touch’ by raising a hand and shouting ‘touch’. This minimal contact sport is accessible to all players, young, old, male and female. 

Simon says, “Rugby is an amazing game, whether you play for a top-tier team or just for fun. It’s not easy. But it will improve your coordination, balance and stamina. It will teach you the importance of communication, teamwork and having a sense of humour. All players, new and decrepit, are welcome to join us for training and game time.”

In my view, touch rugby seems like the ‘new’ mind/body sport to get stuck into this year and with the Six Nations Championship kicking off on the 5th of this month, there is no better time to become enthusiastic about this sport.

Simon tells me, “The Six Nations sees the best European rugby teams playing against each other. The competition is fierce and the physical contact is significant. 

Touch rugby retains all of the skills of the contact game, with none of the trauma.” Simon, who at the moment is one of the main coaches in Lagoa, adds, “If you want to get fit, get involved in a new sport, or maintain your rugby skills, then give it a try!”

If you are interested in participating in touch rugby training, there is no charge and no gender bias. Sessions are from 8–10 pm every Monday at Lagoa (not Lagos!) Sports Ground. Bring trainers and water. The session consists of warm-up stretches, techniques and training drills, playing a number of games, stretches and warm down. The centre has three coaches and support from the Touch Rugby Association.

Facebook: Algarve Touch Rugby Group

Dave Alger: +351 962 315 256

Photos © Amy Martin


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