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Feature: Trying to convert Brazil to rugby

Worcester Editorial 1st May, 2014 Updated: 19th Oct, 2016

FOOTBALL fever is set to engulf Brazil this summer when it stages its first FIFA World Cup since 1950.

But another sport more accustomed to Sixways than Sao Paulo is making big strides in the South American country.

Observer reporter Geoff Berkeley spoke to a Worcester Warriors coach, now based in Brazil, who believes people are beginning to warm to the oval ball.

WHEN Tom Redfern was offered the opportunity to make the 6,000-mile trip to Brazil to teach youngsters rugby it seemed too good to be true.

Tropical weather, beautiful beaches and inspiring architecture were all awaiting the rugby mad 19-year-old as he prepared for a trip of a lifetime.

However, it was not until he arrived in Brazil last August that he realised the enormity of the task facing himself and his fellow coaches.

“Football here can only be described as a religion,” he said. “If you don’t support a football team you are crazy. Everyone talks about football, analyses football and adores football.

“Driving around Brazil it becomes even clearer as there are hundreds of football pitches and if children aren’t playing on them they are playing on the roads and in whatever free space they can find. It really is everywhere, so coming into a country dominated by football and trying to ignite rugby has been challenging.”

But nine months on Tom said the passion for the sport was starting to simmer in the South American country.

The former Worcester Sixth Form College student has been out there working for Premiership Rugby, which teamed up with the British Council and SESI to launch the TRY RUGBY SP project.

Last year, the scheme was delivering rugby to around 9,000 people per week across eight cities within the state of Sao Paolo.

And Tom, who has been based in the city of Jacarei, said they are starting to see their work bear fruit as they not only teach children rugby skills but also the core values of the sport.

“It been quite a challenge, but the kids are slowly starting to understand the respect, teamwork and discipline to play rugby,” he said.

“The objectives of the project are to improve social change so for me learning the rugby values is just as important as the technical side. So, whatever their age and whenever they leave the project I hope that that these guys, who come from difficult backgrounds, will become better people off the pitch and through rugby gain more opportunities.”

With Rio De Janeiro also set to host the 2016 Olympic Games, Tom said he would love to see some of the players he had coached go on to represent Brazil Sevens team.

But in the meantime, the former academy scrum half at Warriors said he was keen to continue to make positive strides in the country before his contract runs out in December.

“I am currently in the process of developing a team of my own and this is the sort of direction I want to take my guys,” he said.

“They are very talented and loving their rugby so it would be great to know that whenever I leave the country that this school will have a team.

“They are embracing rugby and its values and it is great to see them develop on and off the pitch.”

He added: “The experience here has been the most stressful, challenging and mind boggling time I have spent during rugby.

“But I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.”

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