Zoe Wil­liams

Can I get to grips with touch rugby?

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents -

There is an el­bow of the Thames that is so full of sporty types – tow­path rid­dled with jog­gers, hockey clubs to the left of you, row­ers to the right – that by the time I reached the rugby club, I was sort of done with fit­ness. It’s 8pm on a Wed­nes­day, I thought; when I was the age of these rugby play­ers, I’d have been out drink­ing for at least three hours by now.

But the O2 touch rugby club is dis­arm­ing: small – there were six of us, but usu­ally there are twice that – zesty and wel­com­ing to new­com­ers. Touch rugby, a scaled-down ver­sion of the sport with no tack­ling or scrum­ming, is great fun. But one per­son who can’t throw, catch or touch some­one with­out crash­ing into them like a con­cussed bull can de­rail the whole thing. I was that per­son. It sounds quite easy, but if I man­gle it here, that is partly to in­di­cate that it is not easy, and partly to show I never fully un­der­stood it.

The in­struc­tors, Gareth and Tracey, are amaz­ing, by the way: the whole taster set-up is free. If you like it, you can join a league, and there are loads. Ideally, it’s six-a-side, but since there were only six of us, we were three, so that’s what I’ll ex­plain. Con­fus­ingly, the peo­ple with the ball, try­ing to get to the line, are the at­tack­ers, even though the de­fend­ers are much more at­tack-ey. At­tack­ers, if touched, have to put the ball down and step over it. A team­mate then picks it up and passes to an­other. You have to stay be­hind your team mem­ber with a ball.

This sounds a very eas­ily mas­tered prin­ci­ple. Un­for­tu­nately, with the phys­i­cal IQ of the av­er­age dog, once there was a ball in­volved and peo­ple were run­ning, I in­stinc­tively ran to­wards the end of the pitch. I was al­most never in the right place to be passed to. De­fend­ers, mean­while, have to touch the per­son with the ball. That sounds re­ally sim­ple, you’re think­ing – that’s just like play­ing “it”. It, it turns out, was a lot more skills-based than you re­mem­ber. Touch­ing some­one gen­tly, if you’re chas­ing them, re­quires slow­ing down first. I rammed into Gareth so hard, he said, “Have you played a lot of con­tact rugby?” Once you’ve touched some­one, you have to run, back­wards, for five me­tres.

It was only once I hurt my knee (pre-ex­ist­ing old-per­son ail­ment) and stood out for a bit that I could see how it works: peo­ple who un­der­stand the rules do a lot of feint­ing and dodg­ing, so there’s an el­e­ment of panto that splices the com­pe­ti­tion with play­ful­ness. It is sweet to watch, like grownups in a play­ground, but also func­tions as sport; it makes sense phys­i­cally who­ever’s play­ing it (un­like, say, net­ball, which you have to see pro­fes­sion­als play be­fore you can de­ci­pher it). This is a to­tal, allincomes, all-fit­ness-lev­els rec­om­mend

Want to try it? Go to O2­touch.com; touchrug­by­wales. co.uk; eng­land­touch.org.uk; tar­tan­touch.org

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