By Chris Bailey
As the Aviva Premiership’s only deaf player, Sidcup’s Mat Gilbert could be forgiven for simply taking pride is his achievements – but the Bath forward’s real passion is going above and beyond.
The 28-year-old, a former Scarlets and Mogliani flanker, arrived at Bath last season and played his role in the club’s dramatic transformation in that time.
However, it is away from the rugby pitch where Gilbert’s achievements were recognised at this year’s Aviva Premiership Awards ceremony.
The Sidcup star was nominated in the category of Aviva community player of the season and despite losing out to Worcester Warriors’ Dean Schofield, Gilbert was far from despondent.
He said: “It’s massive. It is great recognition really for the stuff I have done this year in the Bath community and with the Foundation as well.
“Having a disability it affects myself, so helping children with mental and physical disabilities taking part in sport is great.
“A lot of people think of a disability as a barrier and it is important to say to people don’t let that impact your dreams and ambitions.
“I have got to where I am and I haven’t allowed anyone to tell me that I can’t make it.”
Through the Bath Rugby foundation Gilbert got involved with Premiership Rugby’s Something To Chew On programme, educating primary school children on the importance of nutrition, and a handful of other initiatives.
However, his real drive is to promote inclusion among disabled youngsters – and Gilbert believes rugby is the perfect framework within which to do that.
He explained: “They always say rugby is a game for everyone – the fat guys go to prop and the quick guys go on the wing.
“There is a position for everyone within the game, even in the community game we do a lot of tag and touch but it is an easy concept to grasp.
“There are not a huge amount of rules and quite simple boundaries and it is just about picking up the ball and enjoying yourself.”
Gilbert has not been picking up the ball too often himself this season, with just two Aviva Premiership appearances to his name.
But after the disappointment of missing out on a playoff, he is as excited as anyone by the prospect of an Amlin Challenge Cup final clash with Northampton Saints.
“We were massively gutted about what happened last week but we can’t pinpoint it on the Harlequins game,” he added.
“We could look back to every single game in the whole year and possibly pick up little bits and pieces in every game – a bonus point there and maybe a win here.
“But we have got something on the horizon to look forward to.
“It would make sense to win something this year after all the sacrifices we have put in as a squad.”
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