In Wales, a great proportion of Touch players either play or have previously played Rugby. But does this give you a divine right to be good at Touch? Usually not. Touch is a different game, with it’s own subtleties and nuances. It requires a different approach to full contact rugby. Fortunately though, good habits can be learnt.
A good number of men come into Touch when they can no longer sustain a full 80 minutes of tackling, rucking and scrummaging. They hit their 30s and other priorities start to take over – family, work, not ending up with a black eye or torn ham-string – the list goes on!
But if you have played rugby all of your life, possibly at a high standard, does that automatically mean that you can run the show on the Touch field?
Taking The Hit
In Wales, many of us have an instinct to run into on-coming defenders. We love mixing it up with a bit of physical confrontation and there’s nothing better than trying to ‘Maori Side-Step’ an 18-stone prop, is there? Many ex rugby players who have relied on physical dominance throughout their rugby careers are suddenly ‘found out’. When they have to rely purely on skill, it becomes a different proposition to their previous life as a rugby warrior.
We would all love to be like Jonah Lomu (see him in action below – any excuse to watch Jonah literally run over Tony Underwood again!). Sadly, most of us are not built like Goliath and able to run 100 metres in less than 12 seconds.
Budding Lomus aside, junior rugby players are now coached to run at the branches and not the trunk of the tree. However, many of the older generations still run at defenders. Attacking players look to accelerate into contact in order to either, in the best-case-scenario, burst through the tackle or, worst-case-scenario, manage the situation and keep possession for supporting players.
In Touch this tactic is counter-productive. Firstly, attackers initially want to avoid all defenders if possible. If this is not possible, attackers will look to take a Touch, but on their terms. There is little point in accelerating into contact when you are penalised for over-stepping the mark. If a supporting player is able to pick up the ball immediately following a touch, ground can be made very quickly.
Not making ground
Many Union players have traditionally used Touch to warm up and throw the ball around for a bit – plenty of extravagant flicks, running sideways and ‘Allez!’ moments. Instead of accepting or even initiating touches, the ball is kept alive. Unfortunately this is only done laterally and little or no ground is made because every time they do get touched, the ball is invariably on the ground for too long and supporting players receive passes too late, making it very easy to defend.
Perhaps Rugby League players are better at this than Union players as they are used to returning 10 metres. However, most union players are not used to retreating at the ruck (it’s all about the ‘Gain Line‘ and as a result are often caught offside when they first start Touch. This takes some getting used to – particularly for forwards who maybe have little experience of defensive lines in open play. Good Touch players will just play through them.
All is not lost though. Once you accept that the game is different and grow to appreciate Touch for what it is – a fast, dynamic, skill-focused, fun and addictive game, rugby players really can make great Touch players.
What are your experiences of playing Rugby and moving to Touch?