MGC player Eleri James-Sitters scoots around the Vipers’ defence. Photo: Peter Jones.

Touch club season ends on a high

The Marlborough touch season ended on a high note last week with a series of enthralling and all-action finals.

On Wednesday afternoon the mixed grade deciders were contested.

The Mixed 1 grade final was a cracker, eventually won by Vipers, who downed 7201 7-6 in what was described as a “super, intense” decider.

With the scores being level 5-5 at fulltime the match went into a drop-off scenario. With each side reduced to four players, 7201 scored only for Vipers to touch down immediately after, all within the initial two-minute drop-off period.

For the final golden point period of extra time each side fielded just three players and it was Vipers who struck first, claiming the match-winner with some slick work.

The Mixed 2 final was won by Hamburger$, 4-3 over FYT. In the Mixed 3 decider Wu Tag Clan beat Mixed Bits 11-3, while Blue Ballers prevailed 11-5 over Central Whānau to take third place.

In the Mixed 4 final The Kings Touch downed Saint Clair SuperSonics 6-5 while Team Kairos won 5-4 over Pinecones to clinch third spot.

MBC players Bray Taumoefolau and Charles Tupouto’a cook up an attacking ploy. Photo: Peter Jones.
MBC players Bray Taumoefolau and Charles Tupouto’a cook up an attacking ploy. Photo: Peter Jones.

On Thursday the men’s and women’s finals were decided.

Both top grade clashes featured a Vipers team against College opponents.

The Men’s 1 grade turned into a battle royal, favourite Vipers eventually getting the job done 8-7 against a slick Marlborough Boys’ College combination led by Nikau Peipi, Jake Pacey and Hugh Robinson. Vipers relied on the skills and experience of Todd Nicholas, Quentin MacDonald, Dave Fotu and Vili Taufa.

The Women’s 1 final was more clear-cut, Marlborough Girls’ College turning the tables on the Vipers combination to prevail 6-2. Prominent for MGC were Eleri James-Sitters, Stormy Tupara, Anika Moetaua and Issy Tupouto’a. Franki Paulo, Katie Bradley and Laura-Kate Morgan stood out for Vipers.

The Men’s 2 section A decider was won 9-8 by See You On The Five, while Grizzlies accounted for Cobras 9-4 in the play-off for third and fourth.

Men’s 2 section B was won by Boners, 6-4 over Blue Ballers.

In the Men’s 3 final Simcox downed Lazy D 6-5, with Grovetown Country Hotel Rhinos beating Unevolved 4-1 for third.

The Social Men’s grade was taken out by Usual Suspects, who overcame MVM 6-3. Crowknees took third over Touch & Go, winning 6-2.

Nikau Peipi flies through the air to score a spectacular touchdown. Photo: Supplied.

Touch reps impressive

Marlborough’s representative teams at the Youth Nationals 2021 set a new benchmark for the province.

The under-16 mixed side came away from the Auckland tournament during the weekend of February 13-14 finishing a creditable sixth out of 15 teams, while the under-18 mixed team came 10th out of 13 rivals.

The U16s took their chances and managed to close out the really tight games , something they couldn’t do last year.

Their televised game against Southland was a master class by Marlborough on how to play mixed touch with Delyth James-Sitters taking on the boys in the middle and shutting down tryscoring opportunities. Hugh Robinson proved too much for all teams to handle, scoring in every game or setting up others to score.

They were placed on the tough side of the draw. Nelson, a side they beat 6-1 in a friendly two weeks ago finished fourth while Marlborough held eventual winners Bay of Plenty to the closest score of the weekend.

The U18 reps showed huge improvement, with close scores throughout except a 12-2 loss to eventual winners Te Tai Tokerau, where they couldn’t shut down the speed and aggression of their opponents.

Standout players were Kyren Taumoefolau and Nikau Peipi, with Eleri James Sitters, Anika Moetaua and Stormy Tupara proving they can foot it with the best female players in NZ.

Standout players for the U16s were Hugh Robinson, Jack Burdon and Delyth James Sitters.

In another boost for Marlborough touch, Robinson was named in the New Zealand U16 mixed team, with the Under 18 teams to be announced after senior nationals in early March.

Tour manager Anne Taylor said, “We will review the representative programme in thorough detail as we are now in a position to compete against the best, so every detail counts. These results have been four years in the making and every year we compete we get better.

“The scores don’t always reflect the game as the pressure and competitiveness of touch is huge.

“Everyone in Marlborough Touch is proud of Hugh as he was the standout male player across all teams in the competition. He was absolutely outstanding and it is great to see him recognised.”

Under-21 and open mixed teams will travel to Christchurch in early March to play in the senior nationals.

 

Youth Nationals results:

Under 16 Mixed: BOP lost 4-1;  Manawatu lost 9-7; Southland won 8-5; Otago won 5-3; Te Tai Tokerau won 6-4; Counties Manakau won 7-6; Auckland won 6-5. Play off for 5/6 – lost to Southland 7-4 (Plate Final).

Under 18 mixed: lost to Taranaki 10-7; beat Waikato Black 5-4; lost to Waikato Red 8-5; lost to BOP 8-5; lost to Te Tai Tokerau 12-2. Bowl Final – Lost 6-3 Whanganui.

The under-12 girls, who completed an unbeaten season. Photo: Supplied.

Touch teams strike gold in Christchurch

Marlborough’s junior touch teams wound up 2019 in fine style with a stellar showing at the recent South Island age group championships in Christchurch.

Ninety players, coaches and managers travelled south to represent the province at the Southern IPS event, six teams taking on the best the Mainland could offer.

Marlborough’s effort at the annual event was described as “one of the best ever” by local touch administrators, underlining the burgeoning strength of the sport in this province.

Showing the way at Burnside Park for the Marlborough contingent were the under-16 mixed side and the under-12 girls, both of whom claimed gold medals.

The under-16 mixed side, coached by Serena and MacDougall, beat Canterbury in a thrilling final, Nikau Peipi scoring the vital try in a drop off after the scores were level 5-5 at fulltime. Hugh Robinson, Jack Burdon, Peipi, Jake Pacey and Stormy Tupara all had exceptional tournaments, said the coaches.

The victorious Marlborough under-16 mixed side. Photo: Supplied.
The victorious Marlborough under-16 mixed side. Photo: Supplied.

The opened the tournament by beating Otago 18 11-6, then lost a nail-biter to Canterbury 6-7.  Next came a 3-3 draw with Otago  and a 6-3 win over Canterbury 18 before the 6-5 final result.

The under-12 girls, coached by Todd Nicholas and Peter Flynn, capped a superb unbeaten season with a dominant display in Christchurch, conceding just one try.

The beat Otago 3-0, Canterbury Black (B) 5-0, Canterbury White (C) 12-0, Southland 9-0, Canterbury Red (A) 2-0 then downed Canterbury Red (A) 5-1 in the final. The Marlborough girls scored 36 tries while having their line crossed just once.

In their previous tournament, in Nelson during November, they beat Canterbury White 8-0, Canterbury Black 7-1, Nelson 7-0, West Coast 3-0, Marlborough Grey 7-0 and Motueka 8-1, scoring 40 tries and conceding just two.

The other four Marlborough teams in action in Christchurch also performed with distinction. The under-12 boys side and the under-14 girls sides both finished fifth, the under-14 boys came fourth while the under-14 mixed team fought their way into third.

The Southern IPS tournament will be the last tournament facilitated by Touch New Zealand for this age group as they are falling into line with Sport New Zealand and no longer running under-10, under-12 or under-14 tournaments.

The next assignment for Marlborough’s junior touch sides will be a trip to the national champs in Auckland in February. The under-16 mixed side and an under-18 mixed combination will travel north.

The victorious Marlborough teams in Christchurch.

Under 12 Girls Red – coach Todd Nicholas and Peter Flynn; manager Tash Flynn: Poppy Parkinson, Sophia Nicholas,  Bree Flynn,  Ava Marcroft,  Tilly Tupouto’a,  Isla Tilbury,  Kara Beattie,  Isla Watene,  Olivia Brown,  Elizabeth Pousima,  Sammie Joyce,  Pippa Clarke.

Under 16 Mixed – coach Serena MacDougall and Matt MacDougall; manager Laura Murphy: Jake Pacey, Patrick Thompson, Hugh Robinson, Bray Taumoefolau, Kobe MacDougall, Will Flynn, Jack Burdon, Nikau Peipi, Charles Tupouto’a, Jimmy Morris,  Delyth James-Sitters, Chelsea Martin, Nikita Gapper, Stormy Tupara,  Ataliaya Lambert, Rosie Bowers.

Ella Donald has been playing touch since she was a Year Five pupil at Havelock School. Photo: Peter Jones.

Ella steps into premier touch ranks

Ella Donald makes no secret of the fact that she has her sights set on a coveted Touch Blacks singlet and, given her rapid progress in the sport, it may not be too long until she is wearing one.

The 18-year-old Marlborough Girls’ College student, who trialled for the New Zealand under-20 mixed team at the weekend, has been chosen by Touch NZ to take part in a newly-established nationwide premier competition, which kicks off in mid-October.

In the Premier Touch League Ella will represent the Te Waipounamu (South Island) open women’s team against three other sides chosen from throughout the North Island.

She will be given an opportunity to rub shoulders with many of the country’s top touch exponents during the four tournaments, in Christchurch and Auckland, that will constitute the new competition.

“I’m really excited to be involved in something new and fresh like this,” said Ella.

“There are a lot of Touch Blacks announced in [the new league] so it will be a great chance for me to learn and improve my game.”

She admits to being slightly nervous about the premier league step-up but has met her new team-mates at a couple of recent training camps and expects the team to come together quickly.

With increased scrutiny on the impact of head injuries in rugby, touch is becoming a viable option for those wanting lesser contact.

“[Touch] is still physical, it’s just not rugby-physical,” she said. “When you are in the ruck you still have to be physical … when you are playing mixed especially, the boys give you a good old push.”

Being diminutive in stature, Ella has had to find ways of combatting the bigger opponents. “It’s all about body position, and the ability to change the way they are dumping the ball, which slows the play down. When you are not so big there are other techniques you can use,” she explained.

In top level touch the six players are generally separated into middles, links and wingers. In a mixed team, girls are usually found on the wings with one female link player, a role Ella traditionally fills and prefers.

She credits Todd Nicholas, a New Zealand masters rep from Marlborough, with helping her hone her touch skills.

“He has helped a lot with my training and fitness, he’s got great knowledge.”

Although Ella confesses that touch is her favourite sporting past time she is no slouch at several other codes, being part of the MGC senior A netball team and the local champion women’s basketball side, while also excelling at athletics.

She had played touch since her Year 5 days at Havelock School, rising up the ranks to represent both Marlborough and Tasman through the various age group levels, then gaining her first national honours as part of the NZ under-16 mixed development side which played in Australia during 2017.

Now she is chasing a place in the under-20 mixed side that will tour Australia in mid-January, having attended a couple of Auckland training camps alongside MBC student Keelan Murrell.

“I’d like to be a Touch Black one day, so hopefully if I make the 20s team I can carry myself up to the top level.”

Although touch can appear as a relatively simple game to the uninitiated, Ella says there is much more to it. She relishes the speed of play, the constant movement and structure on both attack and defence, plus the tactical side and the fact all the players on the field are regularly involved.

“To be a good touch player you need a good heart,” she explained.

“Apart from being physically fit and strong you need good communication skills and must be a good team player. You can’t be an individual in touch, otherwise they are just going to shut you down on defence.

“You’ve also got to be quick on your feet, agile and fast off the mark … be able to handle the ball well and pass well off both hands. Good tactical awareness and the ability to read the game is important, plus the mental toughness and determination to keep going for that touch and to turn the ball over.”

While she is describing the general attributes required to be a good touch player, Ella could well be outlining her own skill set, a combination that pushed her into the top echelon of the sport in New Zealand.

Touch trio beat heat to bag bronze in KL

Beating the heat was tough enough, let alone the world-class opposition, but the trio of Marlborough players at the 2019 Touch World Cup in Kuala Lumpur did both to bring home a bronze medal.

Josh Harrison, plus the husband-and-wife duo of Todd Nicholas and Katie Bradley, were part of the New Zealand Mixed 30 grade team who tipped over England in a third/fourth place play-off to bag bronze.

Playing two games a day in the draining heat, with the mercury hovering around 45 degrees and occasionally rising to 52, was a big ask for those not used to such conditions.

When the temperature topped 45 the games were played in quarters, with more breaks for hydration of both players and referees. When it went over 50, play was halted.

Harrison said the heat was oppressive. “A few went down with heat stroke. It was often so hot you had to force yourself to eat regularly and hydrate.”

Despite battling unfamiliar conditions the Kiwi teams achieved plenty of success.

The NZ Mixed 30 crew were in an 11-team grade and won eight out of their 10 matches. They beat Chile 15-3 and Scotland 13-4 on opening day, downed Singapore 13-0 before losing to eventual champions Australia 11-4. They bounced back to down Ireland 10-6 and England 8-2 before suffering their second defeat, a 7-6 reversal to the Cook Islands. The quickly recovered to tip over France 10-2, South Africa 9-6 and UAE 12-3.

The United Arab Emirates game was notable as it reunited the Marlborough players with former team mate and friend Jeremy Manning, now resident in the UAE.

At the end of the game Manning, once a professional rugby player and Fijian sevens coach, joined with his team to present the NZ side with a plaque celebrating the UAE’s “Year of Tolerance”. As well as providing a memory of the occasion it was designed to show their support for New Zealand in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings and recognize this country’s tolerance for what happened.

“It was a good game and great to play against Jeremy,” explained Harrison. “We had a moment’s silence before the match to remember the Christchurch victims … they had six Kiwis in their team … and we did the haka after that.”

In the semifinals the Cook Islands repeated their win over New Zealand, winning 5-3, before the Kiwis clinched third by downing England 9-3.

Bradley scored 14 tries to top the Mixed 30 team’s scoring, and was named as the side’s female MVP, while Harrison dotted down 11 times and Nicholas three.

Overall the NZ contingent won three golds – the 50s men, the 40s men and the 27 women – while the three open teams, plus the 35 men and women and the 45 men, picked up silver medals.

The Aussies dominated most grades to win the overall World Cup, their cause helped by the recent introduction of the NRL touch competition, with semi-professional touch teams being aligned to NRL franchises.

Among the NZ Mixed 30 team’s opponents was former rugby league star Scott Prince, who played 300 NRL games and represented both Queensland and Australia.

“He’s fairly handy,” said Harrison with a smile, “he certainly gave us a couple of lessons.”

Overall he felt the tournament went without a hitch. “Malaysia was a great place to visit. We had ice baths, physios and masseurs, which we needed … “[the organisers] really looked after us.”