Valley Rugby Club has a New Zealand representative – lock Doug Brand.
Brand recently returned to Oamaru after playing for the Deaf Blacks in a three-test series against Argentina, the New Zealand side winning all three games – 24-8, 20-3 and 29-0.
Brand was born without a left ear, and his right ear functions at about 65% hearing.
He was selected for the Deaf Blacks last year, but the series against Argentina was the team’s first international clash.
Brand joined the Valley premier side this year, with preparation for the Deaf Blacks series in mind.
Before that, the 31-year-old stock agent had not played for six years.
“It has improved my rugby. I really enjoy the culture that Valley have got – the coaches and the club have been fantastic.”
Pulling on the black jersey was a powerful experience, especially for those in the group with profound hearing loss, he said.
“There were guys there who might have come from deaf families who haven’t had the same opportunities as I have been given.
“Because I can hear and communicate I can go to a rugby club and fit in, but for a lot of those guys who are deaf, they can’t do that.
“The only way they can is if they go along with someone who gives them a foot in the door, so the opportunity for them to play club rugby isn’t really there.”
Brand became fluent in sign language in his late teens, when he first became involved in deaf rugby. Although there is a universal sign language, it was not widely used in Argentina or New Zealand, which each use their own forms of sign language.
“One of the boys in the team is engaged to a girl from Chile, so she speaks Spanish, and she said the sign language they speak in Chile is completely different to what they speak in Argentina.”
But it did not take long before the players from both teams were communicating, he said.
“We had your typical after-match with a couple of beers and speeches.”
The level of the rugby was similar to Citizens Shield, he said, but with some differences.
“It is perhaps not as fast, with communication being a bit of a barrier, but it is every bit as physical.
“When you are playing club rugby and you have a player absolutely screaming for the ball, you can hear him without seeing him.
“Deaf rugby you don’t have that, you have to take the time to look.”
The second game of the series against Argentina was bittersweet for Brand – he was awarded man of the match, but tore his medial collateral ligament. The recovery time is six to 12 weeks, so it has put the rest of his season for Valley in doubt.
The next series for the Deaf Blacks is yet to be confirmed, but there are hopes of a tour of South Africa.
Did you know?
The first deaf person to play in high-level provincial union was Ronald Twaddle – a prop forward for North Otago. He represented the team in 1946, 1948, 1950 and 1951. Twaddle also played against other provinces for the national tournament and Ranfurly Shield.