Anyone for Aussie rules?

7th September 2007 at 01:00

COLLEGE LECTURER Robert Fielder has been appointed coach to the English Australian rules football team. He is busy preparing for the nine-a-side European championships that will take place in Hamburg next month.

There is also a world championship in which the British team, the Bulldogs, play, but hosts Australia don't take part, preferring to give their visitors a chance of winning.

As well as training the English team the Dragon Slayers Mr Fielder has been teaching the sport to his students at Wiltshire College in Chippenham. One of his high-flying students, Tom Ingall, 17, will be in the team, even though he has been playing only for the past year. He is studying for a national diploma in sport.

The Welsh, perhaps showing a bit more sensitivity to their neighbours than the English, call themselves simply the Red Dragons, while the Scottish team goes under the somewhat less threatening name of the Puffins.

"I don't think the names make much difference to the way we play," says Mr Fielder, who emphasises that Aussie rules football has less heavy contact than rugby and is more free-flowing.

He met participants in the sport while on holiday in Australia and caught the bug, having previously played cricket, rugby and football. "I discovered that, despite what people say, there really are rules in Aussie rules football and it's a lot of fun," he said.

A standard Aussie rules team has 18 players and uses an oval pitch, although in the UK it is often played on rugby pitches with teams of nine. The sport often sprouts up as an extra activity under the auspices of local rugby clubs.

Contrary to being "no-rules football", as it is referred to by the uninitiated, there are complex laws about passing and handling the ball. But unlike English football, it has no offside rule. It has elements in common with Gaelic football and rugby, with most of the movement achieved by long kicks. There are four 15-minute "quarters" of play and the action is supervised by five umpires.

The sport is increasing in popularity in British universities and is already well established at Oxford and Cambridge, but Mr Fielder is keen to get FE colleges more involved.

Outside college, Mr Fielder plays for the Swindon Devils, in the ARUK Walkabout National League. He hopes to be in the British Bulldogs team when it takes part in the international cup next year.

The game celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2008. It was invented as a way of keeping cricketers fit during the winter. The first league was formed in 1877 and the game gradually spread across Australia from its starting place in Melbourne.

* Colleges interested in introducing Aussie rules football can contact Robert Fielder: telephone 07967 844 464; email: fielrt@wiltscoll.ac.uk

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