Another first for Touch in Wales (and possibly Europe) – the Junior Challenge Series
On Friday 26th July 2013, a West Wales regional select team will take on an East Wales squad in the first ever Junior Challenge Series (JCS) for players aged 15 years and below. The teams will face off for two games featuring the brightest young talent south Wales has to offer. Click here for the full team line ups.
Rachel Wasserman, aged 14 (left) Playing regional Touch in the WTA Nationals and will now represent West Wales in the Junior Series
This time the young talent gets a chance to shine on their own stage
The game will be played in the mixed category meaning that boys and girls will play on the same teams. Players will be in years 9 or 10 in school and for most of them it will be the first time they have played Touch in a game exclusively for their own age group. Let’s take a look at the two teams.
The East Wales squad is mainly made up of players currently playing for teams in the Touch Rugby Wales league in Cardiff and are coached by Cyclones coach, Owen Smith and Cyclones Mixed Open player, Khal Salim. The coaching staff have excellent pedigree with the Cyclones having recently swept the board in all divisions at the inaugural Wales Touch Nationals in April.
The Cyclones | Seiclonau (South Cardiff & the Vale) won the Men’s Open, Women’s Open and Mixed Open divisions featuring a multitude of internationally-experienced players. However, they also had one eye on the future by blooding youngster, Lucy Pattison in the tournament. The experience of playing in Wales’ premier tournament will no doubt stand Lucy in good stead whilst playing for East Wales in the JCS.
Most of the East team play together for Ysgol Plasmawr in the TRW league under the guidance of seasoned international Touch player, Sion Wyn Davies, Plasmawr’s Head of PE and also a current Wales 40 player. Expect the team to be well-drilled and possibly a little more knowledgeable of Touch tactics than their west Walian counterparts.
However, Lucy will not be the only player on the pitch that has regional experience. Another talented young female, Rachel Wasserman, will be looking to capitalise on her Nationals experience in the JCS this Friday. Rachel was a late addition to the Red Kites | Barcutiaid Coch (West Wales) squad having only attended one training session prior to the tournament. Despite only being 14 years old she greatly impressed and has already been invited to play for Cardiff Raptors in the club-based, Wales Touch Series following her performances at the Nationals.
Many of the West Wales team were identified at a recent Carmarthenshire 5×60 Touch tournament at Pembrey Country Park where nine teams competed to find an under 15s county champion. The day was a great success and it was Ammanford’s Ysgol Dyffryn Aman team that eventually won. Three of the victorious team, Jac Isaac, Steffan Pryce-Griffiths and Cathryn Jones have made the West Wales team and will be keen to continue their success.
Also playing for the West are two players that have impressed in the newly-formed Newcastle Emlyn module. Ysgol Bro Pedr (Lampeter) pupils, Iwan Evans and Caryl Jacob came along to the Emlyn Try-Touch Night in May and decided to form their own team with their friends. The fact that they are only 14 years old didn’t put them off and they have been competing against other teams with much older players. Despite finding it tough going in the early part of the season, the team has been steadily improving each week. In fact, Iwan has already picked up a hatful of MVPs so far this season and he is definitely one to watch at JCS.
So why is this series so important?
In much of Europe, it is fair to say that many people’s first experience of playing Touch does not come until later in life, with many only taking up the game once their rugby playing days are over. Even those that start relatively early are usually well into their teens or twenties before they take up Touch.
Whilst it’s great for people to continue to be active as they get older, if the gap is ever to close between Wales and top class Touch nations such as Australia and New Zealand, players need to be developed from the youngest possible age. They need to play age-grade Touch before working their way up to national senior teams. The current model of trying to develop players that have come to Touch from other sports will only take Wales so far in the world of Touch.
Take a look at this video of some Under 10s Touch from Australia – these kids have grown up playing Touch and it shows – they have running, evasion and handling skills in abundance as well as tactical knowledge of what moves to use and when. Let’s hope that we’ll see Touch of this quality in Wales one day – the JCS could be an important piece in this jigsaw.
The Junior Challenge Series takes place on Friday 26 July 2013 at Swansea University Sports Centre. Game 1 taps off at 12 noon with game 2 starting at 1.15pm. Admission is free although parking charges do apply.
What about you? What do you think about this focus on juniors? When did you start to play Touch?