The sport of touch rugby, or touch as it officially called worldwide, is a mostly mixed gender, non-contact version of rugby aimed at people who wish to play for recreational purposes.
What differentiates touch rugby from its mainstream counterpart is in the title. Instead of tackling an opponent in order to dispossess them, you just have to touch them on any part of their body, at which point the player must then place the ball on the ground where a teammate will play it.
A team is allowed six touchs to attempt to score a try before the ball changes over to the other team.
The game originated in Australia over 40 years ago and since then it has become a very popular recreational activity there as well as in neighbouring country New Zealand. However, here in Ireland it is still very much in its infancy, with the Irish Touch Association (ITA ) having only been set up in 2007. In fact up until mid-2012, there were only a couple of casual leagues in the country, all of them in the Dublin area.
That changed in the second half of last year with the arrival of the inaugural Galway Touch League. The brains behind this initiative were Mayo natives, Jenny McHale and Conor Slack. Jenny had already played touch for Ireland and along with her tag rugby teammate Conor, had previously been travelling up to Dublin to take part in touch competitions. They were interested in transporting the sport to Galway shores provided that it would be met with sufficient participation. It all started with a touch open day at Corinthians RFC in June and soon after that a series of weekly training sessions began in Renmore.
After a couple of weeks, it was clear that there was indeed a strong interest in the game and the Galway Touch League began in September. The eight-team league ran until November and was a great success with ‘Kiss my Pass’ winning the inaugural competition. Throughout the season, more training sessions were held to impart the skills and tactics of the game to the mostly novice players. A number of these sessions were taken by professionals from the Connacht Rugby squad such as Dan Parks, academy manager Nigel Carolan, and backs coach Billy Millard.
The organisers are now planning the Galway Touch League 2013, which is scheduled to begin on Monday 21st January. This league will run for 10 weeks. Prior to that, there are training sessions planned for Monday 7th and Wednesday 9th to help introduce new players to the game.
For people who may have played tag rugby and are wondering how similar touch is, well it is also non-contact, mixed and the basic skills are the same. However, touch is a faster, more fluid game and tactically is quite distinct from tag. There are also the added advantages that, unlike tag, it is not run as a commercial enterprise and it has an international dimension. There are Touch World Cups and European Championships.
In fact later on this year, the ITA will be hosting the 2013 Touch Home Nations Championships in Dublin. This will take place in DCU from June 21 - 23. It is the first international touch competition to be held in Ireland and there are seven Irish teams taking part. These range from the mixed open (for men and women of any age ) to the men’s over 40s team. So a person of any age who has an aspiration to improve and play at a higher level can do so.