- Kettering centre relishes Welsh challenge
- England seek to reclaim Broadstreet Cup
Kettering centre Tom Bridgeman is relishing the prospect of winning his second England cap in the Deaf international against Wales at Franklin’s Gardens in Northampton on Saturday, May 10 (6pm).
Bridgeman’s only previous appearance at the home of Aviva Premiership club Northampton Saints came for Kettering Under 12s in one of the junior finals on the day of a Mobbs Memorial Match at Franklin’s Gardens but he hopes to have strong local support as England attempt to reclaim the Broadstreet Cup they surrendered in a 36-3 defeat in Cardiff in January.
“I’ve only played at the Gardens once before, which was in Kettering’s Under 12s in one of the Mobbs Cup finals so it’s quite a big deal for England Deaf playing at a Premiership club for the first time,” Bridgeman said.
“Hopefully we will get a few people down to watch, especially as Northampton are at home to Wasps earlier in the day, and it will help to get more recognition for deaf rugby in England.”
Bridgeman, whose father Dougie is a Welshman, won his first cap at Cardiff Arms Park earlier this year in a new-look England side that competed well for a time before Wales pulled clear in the second half.
Bridgeman missed the end of Kettering’s league season because of a shoulder injury but has been passed fit to face Wales and will form a new centre pairing with new cap Cameron Roberts of Hartpury College.
Bridgeman, 26, only became aware of the England Deaf team earlier this season and discovered through a chance conversation with Aldam Mills, one of the team’s coaches, that he was eligible to represent his country.
“I’ve suffered from Meniere’s Disease, which affects the inner ear, since I was about 17 or 18,” Bridgeman said.
“It means that I have an imbalance of fluid and I used to get nausea and vertigo on a regular basis. Nowadays they happen only about once a year but it means that I have about a 30 per cent hearing loss in my right ear but I have normal hearing in my left ear.
“I mentioned this to Aldam and he said that I would probably be eligible to play for England Deaf. At that stage I didn’t know that there was a deaf side but I had another audiogram and my hearing loss was sufficient for me to play.
“We have a mixture of players who are profoundly deaf or who, like myself, have a partial hearing loss. But the good thing about rugby is that everyone mucks in together and communication is not a problem.”
One of the profoundly deaf members of England’s squad on Saturday is Northampton Old Scouts back-row forward Jack Hunt who is the son of Simon Hunt, owner of the racehorse The Giant Bolster.
“I used to coach Jack at East Midlands summer schools,” said Bridgeman. “I’m a bit older than he is and I’m a level one coach.
“I’m not sure whether he remembers me but I can remember coaching him and I didn’t think then that we would be playing together for England.”
The England Deaf Rugby Union was formed in 2003 to provide opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing rugby players to play for their country.
Players are eligible to play for England Deaf and the England Deaf Rugby Union for Women if they have a combined hearing loss of 25db or more in both ears. This roughly translates to a minimum hearing loss in both ears or a moderate hearing loss in one ear but with normal hearing in the other.
Not all of the players wear hearing aids or only communicate by sign language and this has never stopped all the players communicating and playing rugby as a squad.
EDRU are working with the RFU to offer Deaf Awareness advice to clubs and schools to help integrate deaf and hard of hearing players.
Former England Deaf international Mat Gilbert has made a successful career as a professional rugby career as a back-row forward first with Scarlets and now with Bath in the Aviva Premiership.