Last weekend saw the exciting climax of the 7thTouch Rugby World Cup in Edinburgh. The event, held at the University of Edinburgh’s Peffermill playing fields, hosted some 1,400 participants from 28 countries over an exhausting five days. My Father-in-law and I made the journey to Edinburgh to watch the wife play for England in the Mixed Open category.
Touch is an interesting sport. It was first invented in Australia in the late 1960s as a way of sharpening Rugby League techniques and soon took off due to the social nature of the game. It is a well-established institution in the Southern Hemisphere, especially Australia, New Zealand and with South Africa not too far behind.
Now…we’ve all played Touch at some point, whether it’s as a warm up before training or just in pre-season to keep the hands going. But to see it played at the very top level was not only breath taking but also showed just how different this game is from the Rugby we all know.
Firstly, the pace and skill levels required are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Rather than a '7s-style', off the cuff reliance on pace and footwork, Touch employs a complicated mix of explosive set piece patterns. But there is plenty room for flare – I watched open mouthed at gravity defying sidesteps and saw things I didn’t think were possible with a Rugby ball!
The game itself is all-inclusive. It is billed as the ‘sport for all’, which was certainly reflected in Edinburgh. There were seven different categories in competition; Men’s Open, Women’s Open, Mixed Open, Men’s Over 30s, Men’s Over 35s, Men’s Over 35s and Senior Mixed. How many sports do you know where Men and Women can compete equally at the top level?
The interesting side to touch is the discipline it requires. The dummy-half (scrum-half figure who starts each play) cannot score or be touched. Any handling errors, even if it goes backwards, result in a turnover so passing has to be precise.
Touch is centred around a social ethos and the spirit of the game is integral to the laws – if you don’t give the ball to the opposition at a turnover or after a touchdown then it is a penalty. If your touch is deemed too hard then you can be penalised or even ‘force subbed’. All this to think about whilst playing at a frenetic pace with a constant stream of rolling subs can make it something of a whirlwind!
The tournament panned out across ten pitches in the shadow of the iconic Arthur’s Seat. The bright and colourful array of kits, countries, accents and flags was more reminiscent of a Quidditch World Cup rather than any Rugby tournament I have ever been to!
There was a genuine cultural exchange with the Pacific Island teams performing Hakas, the Welsh singing songs from the Valleys and the Italians in a particularly stylish kit. The Cook Islands’ warm up was more akin to a Zumba class but was still entertaining.
The action itself ended in disappointment for England. Australia dominated proceedings, winning five of the seven categories and played New Zealand in four of those.
Zoe’s team were robbed by a physical Niue side…and some suspect refereeing decisions! They finished fifth out of 19 teams in their category – but it could have been so different if they had played South Africa in the 1/4 final instead of the formidable Australia.
However, it was not all doom and gloom – Touch is definitely a growing sport in Europe and encouraging performances from the likes of Japan and Singapore shows the sport’s global appeal. The next stop is Italy for the European Championships in 2012.