The Wales Homeless Team, many of whom represented the Dragons in their 4-3 victory over Worcester back in December came together to be the first team that Wales had put forward for the competition.
Led by Dragons community ambassador Callum House, the squad was selected from various charities and organisations across South Wales.
Part of the POBL group, participants were selected from local schemes, namely Gwalia, Solas Cymru, Cre8 and Reach who provide 24hr support and accommodation for the youngsters.
Currently, the team resides at a variety of schemes and these are Ty Idris Davies (Rhymney), Maes Y Dderwen (Nelson/Ystrad Mynach) and Woodstock House (Abergavenny.)
One initiative from these schemes was to get people involved in sport and the team was created back in November for that Worcester game before being selected to represent Wales in the International Cup at Sixways Stadium last Saturday.
The team was pitted in a group against England and Scotland, who had also created their teams from similar schemes in their local area.
And it would be old rivalries resumed as Wales were put against England in the tournament opener.
The competition format was that of 30-minute touch-rugby matches, with the winner being the team to win both matches or in the event of a tie, whoever had scored the most tries.
So it was imperative that Wales started with a flurry.
But, unfortunately, the team could do nothing to prevent England from running into a 3-0 lead in the opening ten minutes.
Then, after some incredible passing across the field, Wales would reduce the arrears through a try from Logan James.
That try was the first that Wales had ever scored at the tournament and something which the 21-year-old described as the “greatest moment of my life.”
And Wales would be rewarded for a sustained period of possession after the break when Jordan Bowen got them to within one of the Red Rose.
But England would hit-back quickly and extend their advantage and ultimately hold on to take the spoils in the curtain-raiser.
Speaking more about that opening try for Wales, Logan James said: “My first game against England for Wales and I scored the first try - that was the best feeling of my life.
“They were wearing an England shirt and me a Welsh one and I had to score that first try - for the pride.
“I wanted to beat England so bad - they're our next rivals really - but to get the first try means it's not that bad.
“England have had their team for 2 years so they have a lot of confidence. They have more experience than our team. We need to learn to play together and we'll get better.”
Reflecting on the game, head coach Callum House said: “I’m gutted, we should have won. There were a few mistakes on not giving the ball out fast enough, drawing the man and it just lost it for us in the game.
“We’ve definitely got to look at creating more space on the pitch and sucking those defenders in.
“Also, our defence needs looking at because we left too many gaps and didn’t come up as one. England didn’t look great in the game and I think if we work on the passing and handling side of things we can definitely beat them next year.
“If we had an extra month and more training, we would have won and it’s a fine margin which the boys can take pride from.
“We proved in the second half that we are a really good team and if it wasn’t for the poor start then it would have been different.
“I’m excited for the next one and I can’t wait to see the improved performance.”
And it would appear that the boys heeded Callum’s advice as they went instantly into the training room getting prepared for the Scotland game.
But for all the preparation and bombarding of the Scottish line during the first-half, Wales would find themselves 1-0 down at the break after a breakaway try.
And it would take some wise words from Mr. House to get a dejected team back in the game.
After having two tries disallowed for infringements, Wales finally levelled through Jordan Bowen.
And they would soon reap the rewards of their efforts throughout the game as Sion Marc Thomas gave them the lead before Bowen scored again to turn the tie on its head.
That left Wales with one win and one defeat from their first exploits at the competition, and plenty of encouraging signs going forward.
Commenting post-match, House said: “I’m over the moon – really chuffed for the boys to get a win because they deserve it.
“The stats show we dominated the game and that proves that these boys have real potential. There was a little bit of frustration at half-time because there were a few things we weren’t doing and that meant we were trailing.
“But all credit to the boys because they put it right and got the victory they deserved. Against England we got punished for poor discipline and this time we gave away no penalties so it’s really encouraging going forward.
“This team has a huge amount of potential and hopefully I can get the boys into regular training to take them to the next level.”
The plan for the team moving forward is to get them consistently involved in rugby with regular training sessions, matches and the potential to enter the side into a touch league in the future.
Jason Leadbeater, support worker at Solas Cymru, and another individual heavily involved with the coaching and support of the team says it is vital to keep the boys together.
“There has been a noticeable change in the boys,” he said.
“Each case is different but generally these youngsters are in our accommodation for 2-6 months before they move on. They still get assisted support from us afterwards so it is important that we keep the contact of the boys and keep them together.
“There are obviously health benefits to rugby but being part of a team has bonded them together and I can see a huge improvement in their confidence – both on and off the field.
“I feel it’s important to keep the core squad together and in-put other youngsters in the future to build the team as a whole.
“It’s been a massive achievement for the boys to represent their country at an international event and their commitment and ambition towards this scheme has been brilliant to see. “
Commenting on his experience at the event, Dylan Slocombe, 19, said: “Playing for my country is a huge moment in my life and I thought the boys were outstanding.
“I got involved in the team through Callum and he has been a great help in making this team. I can’t thank him enough and hopefully I can keep this going.”
Logan James, playing his first ever competitive game of rugby at the tournament commented: “I’ve done training but this is different.
“Loads of people say I look like I’ve played rugby before but I’ve only played football.
“I moved into a hostel and they asked me to try rugby and I liked it and I’m getting into rugby now so I want to keep on playing.”
A big thank-you also has to go to Callum and Jason who took on the team and got them so close to returning with silverware at their first appearance. Your work and effort in these schemes is exemplary and on behalf of the Dragons, we would like to congratulate you on your success. We hope to see this continue in the future.
Dragons Community Manager, Mike Sage was also very impressed with the team performance saying, “it has been great to see the lads develop their confidence over the past three weeks in training and I have also seen them begin to bond under Callum’s leadership”.
“The Homeless Rugby concept is a great idea and we are delighted to have given these lads a platform to access rugby provision at Rodney Parade. Callum has been amazing from day one, when we approached him about establishing a Dragons Homeless Team and he hasn’t looked back”.
“It was great to be in attendance at Worcester to see the lads in action but also to see how far they have come in a short space of time. We were all very proud of the team and Callum is to be commended for all his efforts”.
A huge thanks has to be written about the efforts of Newport Live, Leisuretime UK and Peyton Travel. Without these companies, the team would not have been able to fulfil their participation at the tournament. Thank-you for providing transport for the team to the event and all the work you have done this season.
Finally, congratulations must go to the boys who behaved and performed superbly at the event. To represent your country is a huge honour and you deserve the opportunity. We hope you will take encouragement from your exploits and we hope to see you next year, if not sooner, bringing the trophy back with you to Wales.
Team: Marc Storey (C), Logan James, Josh Weller, Dylan Slocombe, Rhys Shaw, Jordan Bowen, Dave Young, Sion Marc Thomas
Tries: Jordan Bowen (3), Logan James (1), Sion Marc Thomas (1)
Player of the tournament: Dylan Slocombe