Blackheath in Mexico

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The world’s oldest open rugby club to play in Cancun Sevens as part of the ‘Dual Year UK and Mexico 2015’ project

by Duncan Herbert

The year 2015 has been designated by the Mexican and UK governments as a Dual Year, the “Year of Mexico in the United Kingdom” and the “Year of the United Kingdom in Mexico.” The initiative is to promote better understanding between our societies. After a series of high level bi-lateral discussions the two governments agreed a largely cultural project but later decided to widen it to include trade, investment, tourism, education, science and innovation. It will be an exceptional year for the relationship between Mexico and the United Kingdom, building on a diplomatic relationship which goes back almost 190 years.

It is as part of the Dual Year that the Mexican Ministry of Sport, in conjunction with the Federacion Mexicana de Rugby (FMRU), has invited Blackheath, the world’s oldest open rugby club, to represent the United Kingdom by sending a team to play in the Cancun International Rugby Sevens on June 27th and 28th. Director of Rugby Simon Legg has responded in the spirit of the Dual Year by selecting two sides from the Club’s 1st team men’s squad and a side from the 1st team women’s squad.

This will be the second time the Club has been to the Cancun Sevens. In 2009 a young Blackheath Development Squad travelled to Mexico to play in the tournament’s second year of existence. In the week before the tournament the Blackheath Squad, with the help of a British charity, the Tag Rugby Trust, coached rugby in schools in the area, including Mayan village schools in the Yucatan jungle. The current Blackheath Squad, in conjunction with the Tag Rugby Trust, will offer similar coaching to teachers and children this summer.

Blackheath, founded in 1858, was hugely influential in the development of the sport of Rugby Football from its early history. Many of the laws and tactics of the game have come from those adopted by the Club in the early days. Now the oldest open rugby club will travel to support one of the newest and fastest growing rugby nations.

Rugby was first played in Mexico during the 1930s by British and foreign oil workers but disappeared after the Mexican expropriation of foreign oil assets in 1938. It surfaced again in 1971 when a Briton, Walter Irvine, founded the Mexican Rugby Union. In ten years the membership rose to 14 senior and 7 junior clubs, but dropped away to near extinction when he and his son retired from the organisation. In 2003 a group of enthusiasts founded the Federacion Mexicana de Rugby (FMRU). Since then Mexico has become one of the fastest rugby developing nations and the fastest rising nation in the World Rugby rankings. In 2003 only 400 players were involved in the game. Now the FMRU presides over a playing membership of more than 12,500. The number of clubs and teams playing rugby has risen from 35 in 2009 to around 300 today.

The Club has been working closely with Mexican Embassy officials in London and British Embassy officials in Mexico City to coordinate the visit. It is against this background and in the celebratory spirit of the Dual Year that Blackheath will welcome representatives of the Mexican Embassy in London as honoured guests at the Club’s final National One league match of the season against Fylde on Saturday 25th March at the Rectory Field, Blackheath, kick-off 3pm.

Graham Cox

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