Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Touch rugby looking to grow in Wales ahead of European Championships

The Wales Touch Association is calling on everyone to take up a new sport ahead of the European Touch Rugby Championships in Swansea next year.

Wales is one of the most established European nations participating in what some consider to be an alternative form of our national sport – but how many readers knew they could play it?

Now, with the premier European competition coming to Welsh shores next summer, the sport’s organising body, in partnership with the WRU, want as many people as possible to take a ball in their hands and try what they have to offer, either at a competitive or purely social level.

Established in 1999, the WTA has been running touch rugby in Wales ever since and has currently grown participation levels to around 3,000. Their product brings touch to all four corners of the country without the contact element, which may put many off its rugged bigger brother, meaning that players of all ages and genders can participate.

As well as running the traditional sport of touch, the WTA have even invented their own sport – Atomic Touch – which has soared in popularity since its inception last year, with the WRU primarily delivering it to secondary school children.

The WTA's Development Officer – Matthew Enoch – explains: “Generally, touch currently has a low level of profile in Wales, although those who play it really enjoy it. Compare that to countries like Australia and New Zealand where participation numbers are bigger than rugby union and rugby league combined.

"We are hoping the range of incentives we are introducing will raise the reach and profile of the sport across the board.

"The mixed element of touch is attractive to many. Men and women play together on an equal basis and couples and even families can get involved. I would describe the sport as an underground success, but still a lot of people don;t know touch exists and what options are available to them."

Matthew describes the sport as having a number of similarities in structure and technique to the 7s game, which has also grown in popularity in recent years, and in which Wales has achieved much global success.

Matthew continued: “You can see the benefits when you play to a good standard. The player to space ratio is similar to 7s and you don’t get any impact injuries. There is a similar focus on the core skills in both games and if your skills are not up to scratch there is no place to hide.

“We pick up rugby players in their off-season who want to stay fit but what we also need are students of touch - players, coaches and referees who are keen to get a better understanding of the sport. For instance, touch players are more like footballers in physique.”

But he doesn’t want the fitness requirements to put people off, and is encouraging all ages and physiques to come forward and give the sport a try with their friends as that is essentially what it is all about.

“There are two distinct elements,” Matthew explains. “We are looking for the good players, but also the social players looking to get fitter, enjoy the social elements and have fun.

"The last couple of European Championships we have been first or second, and at the last World Cup we were fourth, so you can see we are already established.”

On a domestic level the game has been thriving too. There are domestic leagues and tournaments played around the country, the first National Championships were played last month and Elite Leagues have been set up to replicate international tournaments at domestic level.

The WRU has even backed their campaign as they want to expand the appeal of rugby to more people in Wales. They have entered into a partnership with the WTA to deliver touch to as many people as possible.

The coup of attracting the European Championships to Swansea is huge, and the facilities available at University Fields make the city ideal for such an event. It is also vital to push the sport out past the ‘hotbed’ of the Cardiff area to an already receptive West Walian audience.

Atomic Touch has also been a huge success these past 12 months, with its mix of touch, basketball and netball elements making it hugely popular with females in particular.

Matt adds: "Wales is also the only place it is played in the world! Because it is multi-directional, it changes players' views on how they see space on the pitch."

Those whose appetite may have been whetted reading this are told: “Get a group of mates together and find the nearest league. It’s good for work teams who want to mix socially, but also individuals can get involved.

“Attend a league night and see if a team is short, or contact organisers who can find you a team. We want everyone to get involved and grow our membership. The more people playing, refereeing and coaching the game, the more we can grow the sport."

Local leagues, the rules of the game and further information can be found on the WTA website:, or by following the European news at:

Those looking for a new hard working hobby, or just wanting an excuse to get out and about with mates, could find touch rugby the social exercise they have been missing in their life.


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