“Keep moving! Use the ball with both hands. Don’t throw it away like that. NEXT GROUP UP NOW!!”
A large man with an impressive beard is giving out instructions, but I’m not hearing very well. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that my lungs are on fire and parts of my body that even my mother didn’t know existed are being strained and exercised to their limits.
The venue is the Sporthúsið complex in Kópavogur and the occasion is a training session with the newly formed Reykjavik Raiders Rugby Football Club. Myself and 25 other players are being put through our paces with a succession of drills and games. There are also several Icelanders attending their first ever session, this being the first time they’ve ever touched an oval ball. And they seem to be really enjoying it as well.
Despite being played in 115 countries over the world, rugby seems to have hit a blind spot in Iceland, the preferred team sports being handball and football. But this is a situation the Reykjavik Raiders are hoping to change.
When I eventually recovered my breath, I managed to pose a couple of questions to one of the club’s founders, James Broad.
Tell us about the origins of the Reykjavik Raiders. How did it all begin?
I moved to Reykjavik in 2009 and as I have been addicted to rugby since I was nine years old, I was determined to carry on playing here. I found a Facebook group called Rugbyfélag Íslands, started by Stefán Smári Kristinnsson, an Icelander who had come to love the game after time he had spent in Italy and Scotland. He called a meeting with a few others who felt the same way as us, we had a few beers, swapped life stories and the first training session was arranged…
What is your current setup? What are you offering people who turn up to train?
We play every Wednesday evening at Sporthúsið, who have been very enthusiastic supporters of our mission. The training group has gone from a team of nine at our first meeting, to between 20 and 30 guys each week.
We offer anybody keen to try the sport the opportunity to join us and get involved in setting up something that has never happened in Iceland before. You will get coaching, advice and extremely friendly and enthusiastic support from a group of guys amongst who are rugby players who have many years of experience playing professionally and semi-professionally abroad, in international leagues and tournaments.
What do you envision the future holds for RR RFC? Could an Icelandic national team be far off, even?
Each week, more people are finding out about us, more are coming along to play and more word is spreading, both locally and internationally that rugby is being played in Iceland. RR RFC is just the start. We envision that we would be one part of a Reykjavik Rugby league in the future, which could eventually become a nation-wide Icelandic League.
I would love to see a National Team in the not too distant future. It is disappointing to tell you that Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark all play, and play each other regularly as part of a Nordic Cup. But what better motivation for us? I have every reason to believe that Iceland could be a very strong rugby-playing nation. The potential shown by the Icelanders at our sessions has been extremely encouraging.
OK, I’m an Icelander who has never heard of this sport of Rugby. Sell it to me, why I would be interested in playing this sport? Or my kids playing it, for that matter?
I think the game of rugby matches the Viking spirit perfectly. It’s a very physical contact sport played on the grass for a thoroughly exhausting and incredibly rewarding 80 minutes. It has the hand skills and physicality of handball, only times ten! If you play handball, if you like the physical nature of that game, the hand-skills and the speed, then you will love rugby
And we play rugby to the safest levels possible. Kids are not thrown into full physical contact until they are developed enough to use it or take it. There is also a non-contact version that we play called touch rugby, which is played from a young age and utilises all the skills, fitness and tactics of rugby, without the hard tackling.