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.”