Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

What is Unified Rugby, why is it taking off in Forfar – and how can you get involved?

The Strathie Clan is on the hunt for volunteer ‘enablers’ for its Forfar-based Unified Rugby project, a special form of rugby open to disabled people.

Ian Watt is a rugby 'enabler' for the Forfar-based Strathie Clan. Image: Kim Cessford.
Ian Watt is a rugby 'enabler' for the Forfar-based Strathie Clan. Image: Kim Cessford.

When Ian Watt transforms into the role of a rugby “enabler” – helping those with disabilities to play the sport – he can’t stop smiling.

It gives him a massive buzz and a huge feelgood factor.

“It’s fun from start to finish,” says the dad-of-three.

“Seeing the smiles on players’ faces when they’re running with the ball in hand – kicking, passing or scoring tries – is so rewarding.”

Ian is a volunteer enabler for the Strathmore Community Rugby Trust’s team, the Strathie Clan, and coaches youth teams for the rugby club, too.

Coach Ian Watt absolutely loves his role as a rugby 'enabler' with Unified Rugby in Forfar.
Coach Ian Watt absolutely loves his role as a rugby ‘enabler’ with Unified Rugby in Forfar. Image: Kim Cessford.

The team is part of the trust’s Unified Rugby project, which launched in March 2019 with the aim of providing an inclusive environment enabling both those with and without additional support needs to have fun, play rugby and benefit from the game alongside one another.

Inspired by older brother

Ian was inspired to become an enabler by his older brother, Alistair, who passed away at the age of 50 in 2013.

Alistair had Down’s syndrome but was a talented swimmer, clinching a gold medal in the 1990 Special Olympics for swimming.

Ian’s brother Ali Watt with his Special Olympics Gold Medal in 1990. Supplied by Ian Watt.

“The goal of Unified Rugby is to bring individuals and communities together,” says Ian, who lives in the tiny village of Dykehead in Angus.

“It’s used as a vehicle for enhancing the lives of participants, fostering confidence and social skills, and splintering any barriers that still persist around illnesses that are not always visually apparent.”

Unified Rugby keeps you grounded

One of the best things about Unified Rugby, says Ian, is that it “makes you forget your daily moans and complaints” and instead helps you appreciate what is important in life and “keeps you grounded”.

Ian, 55, became aware of the concept of Unified Rugby three years ago and immediately wanted to get on board.

He was already involved with Strathmore RFC as a coach for the Under-16 Sharks team, as his son Calder was playing for them at the time.

Some of the Strathie Clan. Image: Kim Cessford.

Anyone can play Unified Rugby – as long as they can walk unaided. So, how does a game work?

“It essentially follows the general rules and principles of ‘full-on’ rugby – run forwards, pass backwards and score tries,” says Ian.

“Players also take conversion kicks in front of the posts. Scrums (uncontested) and line-outs are also part of the game, as normal.”

There’s “controlled contact” – where the level of contact is dictated by the abilities of individual players.

Coloured scrum caps

Levels of contact allowed are determined by having players wear coloured scrum caps.

“A red scrum cap means you need to be more careful with the player – softer blocking rather than tackling,” explains Ian.

“A yellow cap means you can get use a ‘scrag’ tackle, where tacklers stop the ball carrier by holding them rather than making a full tackle.

A game in action. Image: Kim Cessford.

“No rucking or counter-rucking is allowed once a player goes to ground with the ball to make sure no one gets injured.”

It can be a challenging job, with enablers like Ian needing to work out what makes individual players tick, establishing a connection and relationship, and building trust.

Mix of players at Unified Rugby Forfar

The majority of players are male, but there are a few regular female players.

“There’s no issue with playing mixed-sex rugby, as at the end of the day it’s simply about playing rugby and having fun,” says Ian,

“Some Unified tournaments are male only, which I am strongly opposed to.

Going for it! Image: Kim Cessford.

“This is blamed on a lack of separate changing facilities, which I believe needs to be addressed and rectified – since Unified rugby is a game for everyone.

“Regardless, our female players still come to the tournaments, to watch and support their fellow male players as this is a rugby team ethic.”

Tribute to Ali Watt

Having witnessed a lot of people and organisations put in a lot of time and effort into enabling his brother Alistair to live a fantastic life, Ian is glad to be doing his own bit to help.

“He was a very good swimmer and swam weekly at a club called the Dolphins, where my mother also helped out,” he says.

Ali Watt swimming to his Special Olympics Gold Medal at Strathclyde in 1990.

“He took part in the Special Olympics at Strathclyde in 1990 and won a gold medal.

“Ali never fully gave up his old bedroom in Scone as he still enjoyed coming home at weekends, spending time with mum and dad.

“His bedroom wall in Scone ended up being covered with the medals he went on to win over the coming years, from both swimming and skiing.

“He was sadly taken from us far too young, and passed away aged only 50, but had certainly lived a full life and achieved many things that most of us only dream of.

Ali Watt skiing at Glenshee.
Ali Watt skiing at Glenshee. Supplied.

“I’m now simply giving something back to the rugby world and at the same time doing something good for the community by giving up some of my free time to help out at Unified Rugby as an enabler.

“But it’s true to say that I get as much out of Unified Rugby as the players themselves. And we’re always on the lookout for more enablers!”

Unified Rugby? Just Do It!

For anyone wanting to give it a bash, either as a player or enabler, Ian says, in true Nike style: “Just Do It!”

“Get yourself down to any one of the Unified Rugby ‘clans’ in your area and give it a go,” he beams.

Ian is never happier than with a ball in his hands. Image: Kim Cessford.

“Put any fears or concerns behind you immediately and simply get involved now! The Strathie Clan is always looking to welcome more enablers.

“Don’t leave it any longer, as once you’ve played a game you’ll only be kicking yourself for not coming down sooner.”

Check out your local rugby club

Ian has played rugby all his days and has worked offshore on a month on, month off, rotation, living in different places in the UK and overseas for many years.

He’s played for many different rugby clubs, including teams in Brunei, Oman and Gabon.

“When moving to a new place, the first thing anyone should do is to get down to the local rugby club, where you’ll be welcomed with open arms!” he says.

“I still play rugby myself for an ‘old boys’ team in Brechin called The BRUCE. We train on Mondays, but the highlight of my week is Wednesday night when Unified Rugby training is held. This is for sure where I get most pleasure and reward for my minimal efforts on the pitch.”

Ian keeps an eye on the Unified Rugby players at all times. Image: Kim Cessford.

Ian, who was born in Scone, studied civil engineering at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, and did a Masters degree in Soil Mechanics at the Newcastle-upon-Tyne University.

He then started full-time employment with Shell International, which took him all over the world.

Ian is light on his feet! Image: Kim Cessford.

“In May 2022, I left Shell after 30 years at the age of 54 with a plan to take early retirement,” he says.

“This lasted all of one day before I was persuaded to return to work. Ian Watt Well Engineering Ltd was then founded, and I again started working internationally providing consultant drilling services.

“The retirement is now planned for 2024, all going well, but like everyone else I’m taking things one day at a time.”