Stories

A rugby weekend like no other

Date posted: 24/04/18

A rugby weekend like no other

 

(From left) Ben Leathes, Tom Hocking and Andy Bryce 

Ben Leathes and Andy Bryce were playing at Stewart’s Melville Rugby Club in Edinburgh when they came up with an idea. Their vision was to create a weekend where you could play rugby, watch the European Cup Final and find out about Christian faith. Since the first gathering in Cardiff in 2006, hundreds of players have joined their Christian teammates on a rugby weekend like no other.

The match sees a combined England and Wales team take on their Scottish and Irish counterparts and ahead of this year’s contest in May, the series stands at 5-5. These Anglo-Celtic clashes have provided plenty of stories to tell in their own right, but the weekends have consistently shown how God can work when His people step out in faith.

Ben explained: “We wanted to try and involve our teammates in a bit more of what we were about as Christians. At the same time, we were thinking we want to create a vehicle for other Christians to do the same. Sometimes it’s not easy to share our faith with our teammates, so we thought ‘what’s the easiest way to do that?’”

A rugby weekend like no otherCreating an event around the European final and getting tickets for the big match proved a huge draw and brought players back year on year. While Ben and Andy drove the logistics and looked to ensure both teams had enough players and all the positions filled, many others really caught the vision too.

“We knew it had the right ingredients,” Andy explained. “If we got the tickets, people would bite your hands off for them. The day after the event, we were already looking for tickets for next year! It’s something that works. I genuinely think it could work with lots of different sports. How about the tennis Davis Cup? You could plan a playing and watching event around a home tie.”

The pair tweaked the format over the years and found the best plan was to have a meal and gospel talk straight after playing.

Ben said: “After the match, we sat down for a meal together to enjoy that camaraderie that comes with rugby and hear a talk explaining the Christian faith. That was a huge part of what we were trying to achieve. It felt almost like a mini rugby tour. That first year we had a bit of a ‘court session’ on the Saturday night and some people ended up having to eat a few raw items!”

Andy and Ben have now passed the organisation on to Christians in Sport staff members Dave Hampton and Mike Harris, who have been involved since their own student days. But they remain hugely encouraged at how God has used the rugby weekends.

“There’s no doubt that people who have come on this weekend have become Christians,” said Ben. “I can think of two guys in particular who came on three or four of those weekends we organised and are now Christians as a result. It’s those stories that make it so worthwhile.”

Andy added: “For the first one, I had to get Christians in Sport to write a letter to the school where I was teaching, so I could get the Friday off to travel down to Cardiff!

“When we started it, we hoped it could become like this. At the first one, there was a high percentage of Christians. After that, we said ‘you’ve seen it now, why not bring a mate next time’. Now there are around 45% guests coming and they’re inviting their friends too.”

A rugby weekend like no other

 

Mike Harris sharing the gospel at the 2017 weekend

Since the tops are provided, Andy said there is a Barbarians feel as everyone is playing in their own club’s shorts and socks.

“That is a special part of rugby as it accepts that people are individuals and brings them together for a team.”

Each year, the teams compete for the Thimble Trophy, but Andy explained all is not quite what it seems.

“We were going to watch the Heineken Cup Final, which was a huge match, so we wanted to have a thimble as our trophy because our match was so much smaller. But the engraver misspelt it, so it’s actually the Thinble Trophy!”


Back Pages magazine spring 2018

This article appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Back Pages. To read the rest of the magazine, click here. 


Mike Smith saw straight away how the rugby weekend could help him share Jesus with his teammates. Now first-team coach at Southport RFC, he went to the first one as a player.

“I came down to Cardiff with five lads from my rugby club. They were all rough diamond types. It was a very physical game, which was great. For them, it was a realisation that being a Christian and playing a contact sport like rugby could go very much hand in hand.

“One of the joys has been coaching with a guy who came along on one of the early weekends. We still have conversations about that now. He’s not yet a Christian, but that shared experience allows relationships to build and more opportunities to speak about faith.

“It’s been amazing to see how often people say ‘sure, why not’ when you invite them to these weekends! It can be really difficult to have conversations about faith at your club, so it’s really great to see this response to invites.”

A rugby weekend like no other

 

Mike Smith (left) with cousin and Southport teammate Rik Potter at the inaugural match


Stephen Dixon was brought up in a Christian home and had a strong faith, but said that by his 20s, he was not living life as God intended. His brother Chris invited him, and a few others from Preston Lodge RFC, near Edinburgh to the first rugby weekend in Cardiff.

“At the time, I think I had a surface-level faith. I couldn’t reconcile it with my obsession with sport. Going to the European Cup weekend proved a key jigsaw piece for me as I saw Christian rugby players who walked the walk and talked the talk.”

“It was just amazing to see people who were so at peace with their lives. Even though their career and family lives weren’t all ‘sorted’, they knew where they were going as they were following God’s direction. That was a bit of a lightbulb moment. It re-energised my faith.”

Stephen said he also benefited from the fellowship and advice Christian rugby players gave him.

“Even in the last few years, I have reflected on the impact of that first weekend. I now feel completely comfortable speaking about my faith to the guys at the club. There are at least two guys known to me and my brother who have come to faith in recent times.”

A rugby weekend like no other

 

A Scotland and Ireland team from 2009 featuring (from left): Stu MacLean, Stephen Dixon, Alasdair Walker and Chris Dixon


This year’s rugby weekend will link in with the Premiership Final at Twickenham on May 26th. For more information, visit christiansinsport.org.uk/rugby

 

Ed MezzettiEd Mezzetti, City of York Athletic Club

Ed runs for City of York Athletic Club and is Digital Content Manager for Christians in Sport. He is a member of St Thomas' Church, York