Touch….What a game

I grew up playing rugby league with my local team, Kia Ora Warriors. I was 14 years old when the age grade footy stopped. I then switched over to rugby union with all my friends. I had never played before and didn’t enjoy it because I didn’t know the rules, plus you didn’t get to run and tackle as much as you did in league. I tried basketball but wasn’t any good, played a bit of cricket at intermediate (year 8, 9) but didn’t have any friends to give me rides to the games. This all led me to touch rugby. It was played just down the road and I had watched my parents and older brothers’, to me playing it from 12 years old onwards. It became a passion of mine from then and it still is to this day. For a few years I lived, breathed and loved touch. I even met my wife through playing touch, the sport we both love!

Over the years, I watched a lot of touch in the Manawatu region competition.

A highlight of this competition was the finals day which took place on a Saturday after the end of the season.

Teams such as HWC 7163 ‘the team from the hood’ with guys like Kiria Tangaroa, would face off against ‘Fight the power’, The Te Amo brothers or the ‘Baa-baas’ Wanganui boys. These games were always awesome to watch, they had everything; passion, skills, controversy and a bit of biff.

That is when I caught the touch bug. I played socially with my family team when I was 15 until I got asked by a mate if I wanted to jam with his men’s team BBC (Brown Boys club).

This team took me to the biggest club competition in New Zealand, Whakatane Touch Competition.  Ran over a weekend. You watched Touch at its best. Not only did I enjoy touch but also the friendship and memories I made with the boys. This is when I knew I loved the game.

On the Friday, they have a shoot out competition. In touch this is a drop off touch competition which means the first team to score, wins. However, if you scored off the tap off, the defensive teams gets the opportunity to try and score, if they don’t they lose. After every minute of no one scoring, a player leaves the field until there are 3 per team left.  You got 2 lives, as soon as you lose twice, your team gets eliminated from the competition. Games usually last around2-5mins.

Saturday was the big day where you play a round robin – the best from there go on to the semis, then the finals, where you can get up to 800-1000 people crowded around the field. These finals were next level. The finals always displayed a skill set at it’s highest. You have to see it for yourself to understand what I mean.

My touch Idols:

Remus Gentles and Pete Walters became my idols. Remus had this wicked step where he left people for dust and had this swag about him that intrigued me. Pete Walters did all these passes; the no looks, behind the back and Skucky long balls, plus I liked the way he controlled the game. 

Me and my mates would try to imitate these guys’ every move for several years after. They were the inspiration on what drove us to decide we wanted to win this competition one day, but we needed to start with winning on our own turf. We started by qualifying for high school nationals, for the first time in our school’s history (Palmerston North Boys High School’s). This is where I met my wife as her team, Palmerston North Girls High, qualified as well. A group of our boys then started up a Team called Dawgsouljahz to help us prepare for Touch Nationals at the end of the year.

We ended up coming 3rd – we beat the Champions Kelston Boys High School that year in the round robin 12-8. Lost to them 7-6 in the playoffs for finals.We didn’t expect to do that well but everything pretty much kicked on from there. My knowledge of the game got better from this point onwards, where I made Cook Islands under 20s for 2001 Youth World Cup and then switched to New Zealand under 20s for 2005 Youth world cup.

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Dawgsouljahz:

We started a brotherhood and a legacy that we wanted to carry on until our kids could play for the club. We wanted to help develop touch around our region. The club have won the Manawatu competition 14 times of the clubs 20 years of existence and are the only club lower than Rotorua to win the Whakatane Touch Competition.

Our women’s team Dawgez Angelz have won their grades for the past years with the exception of this season plus we have started up junior team Lil Souljahz. There was a time when we had 2 mens and 2 womens teams. Dawgsouljahz the older players and Lil souljahz the young ones still in school who featured a very young Nehe Milner-Skudder and Touch Black Paul Davis. Same with the womens teams, Wahine Souljahz the older players and Dawgez Angelz the young ones from school. We have had a lot of talent come through the club, over 30 NZ touch representatives, 3 All Blacks, 3 Black ferns 7s, 1 Silver Fern(Netball), 1 Manu Samoa, 1 Manu Sina and 5 Cook Island 7s players. I know we are talking touch but there are a lot of skills you can transfer to rugby.

Superstar Touch Players:

Touch rugby isn’t as easy as you think if you were to play it properly at the higher levels. There are a lot of tricks to the trade and structures involved. I have watched superstars like Benji Marshall, Shaun Johnson and Nehe Milner-Skudder play from a young age at touch tournaments. These guys were freaks of the game. They would take you to wack city, send 30 meter long flat balls to the wings and had the vision of a crystal ball.

I have played touch with some of my rugby union team mates who haven’t played before and they usually find it hard at the start to pick up but once they get used to the rules, they find it an enjoying game to play.

Here’s a few rugby union/league players who played touch rugby.

Benji Marshall – West Tigers, Kiwis

Nehe Milner-Skudder – Hurricanes, All Blacks

Shaun Johnson – New Zealand Warriors, Kiwis

Kalyn Ponga – Newcastle Knights, Queensland

Danielle Waterman – Wasp, England Rugby

Kayla McAlister – NZ 7s Women’s

Joe Webber – NZ 7s Mens

Matt Bowen – Wigan Warriors, North Queensland Cowboys, Queensland

Scott Prince – West Tigers, Queensland

Jamie Soward – Penrith Panthers, NSW

Rebecca Tavo – Australian 7s

Selene Thorton – Wallaroos

Amanda Judd – Wallaroos

Telusa Veinu – Leicester, Tonga

Kristina Sue – Black ferns, Kiwi Ferns

Renee Wickcliffe – Black ferns, NZ 7s Women’s

Niall Williams – NZ 7s Women’s

Phoenix Hunap-Nofoa – Samoa 7s

I’m sure I have missed out a few more, but I think you can see there must be some benefits of playing touch rugby!

Transferable skills for Rugby:

One of the major transferable skills you can take from touch into rugby is decision making.

In attack, deciding whether that is a draw and pass for an overlap out wide, a skip pass to the wings, bouncing someone inside or outside into a hole. Similarly in defence, reading whether you need to jam in when the attack has an overlap out wide or stay man on. How to read when to come on a late cut/switch was a skill set in itself.

Skills you pick up in the game include passing – passing off both hands, variety of passing whether it’s a long ball, pump pass to put someone in a gap, SBW flick out the back pass, no looks or behind the back passes.

Evasive skills like stepping – the best steppers I have come across in sports have been touch players, ankle breakers for days.

Finally, touch can be a very fast sport and it improves your fitness, speed and agility.

Now you’ve heard all the benefits, tell me you wouldn’t want to try touch rugby out!

Go down to local team and have a go. You’ll be surprised how much you would like it. For those parents who worry about their child getting too many head knocks in Union or League, get your child to play this sport until you think they are ready. It could also be a potential path for 7s rugby!

In Australia the NRL announced a historic Touch Football Premiership competition last year where they play as a curtain raiser before first grade fixtures.

A 30 minute game of men’s and women’s. It is televised. Imagine NZRFU getting behind Touch NZ and running a competition in line with the Mitre Cup or the RFU setting a league with the Premiership . I believe if the game was to grow globally it should be an olympic sport.

The Touch World Cup is being played in Malayisa this week so make sure you go over to BBC sports or Live streaming through YouTube under Touch World Cup 2019 to see touch at the International level.

Touch video clips:

Check the links below of some for some touch video highlights and see what it’s all about.

Dawgsouljahz

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uYafeiDwLM

Shaun Johnson High School Touch

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSCCWEHfePE

2015 World Cup Mixed Open Final – Australia v New Zealand

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rr4nlFyCi44

Peter Walter Special

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGe81jGvM20

Mita Graham (NZ men’s captain) Highlights

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VI7gJ1xdKsc

Touch Rugby Rules

There are an explanation of the rules on this link:

https://www.gomammoth.co.uk/touch-rugby/rules/

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