During the recent England tour of New Zealand I found myself with a morning off in Hamilton in the week leading up to the third Test. With little work to do before a conference in the afternoon, channel surfing was the order of the day.
It is no surprise that in that part of the world, rugby gets a lot of airtime. But it was a bit of a head scratcher when it became apparent that competitive touch rugby was on the tube.
That got the old cogs whirring. While a mixed team of Aussie men and women was efficiently seeing off their Kiwi counterparts, it was obvious that as brilliant as these players were, there was not one recognisable stars slipping passes and running cuts. What would happen if male and female Test stars played competitive mixed touch?
In an age where we have international club sevens events and every big summer festival features men’s events, women’s events and every other activity you can think of – at the recent Sevens in the City bonanza at Allianz Park there were crossfit competitions, netball and for some reason a jumbo-screened FIFA 2014 competition, pitch-side – why not give a better funded/sponsored, star-heavy affair a whirl? Of course, in the purely hypothetical world of millionaire-backed Test Touch (*international touch is a big draw with a World Cup in April/May 2015, but this is a working title, for a heavily funded, competition involving big-name players) there is no way of knowing who would triumph.
Clearly New Zealand would be favourites. The All Blacks are the world’s best team at the moment, the sevens sides for both genders are juggernauts and the Black Ferns are favourites for another women’s World Cup. For example, one of the Black Ferns’ big hitters Honey Hireme, Honey Bill to her chums, often plays mixed touch in the Hamilton area. Many of the ABs would play a scintillating game of touch judging by glimpses of their training – it wouldn’t really be a surprise if Conrad Smith turned out to be the best touch player on the planet. But would the Kiwi’s dominance transfer?
See, the Wallabies’ lesser-known touch players had the better of their rivals in black (*and are current touch world champions at mixed touch) and just because their women’s team is not as regularly competitive as the Black Ferns at 15s does not mean they would wilt in touch. No contact, fewer numbers on the pitch, input from some of the more fleet-footed Test men could help to make a potent mix for Australia. Nipping in and out like Hokey Cokey grand masters could be just the game for the likes of Sharni Williams stepping off someone like Bernard Foley and hitting a slick Israel Folau. Hell, it could be the stuff of free-flowing (pipedream) brilliance.
Which is where France would almost certainly fall down. France women based their Six Nations win on the power and bloody-mindedness of a pack. Would the guile of a Morgan Parra or the lethal step and sprint of a Wesley Fofana be enough to overcome a very contemporary French mentality of playing dour, crash-bang-wallop rugby? Test Touch is a cut-throat environment, my friends! Predictable won’t cut it!
Which is why England would have to come into the reckoning of this pub room proposal. The evasion and supply skills of Emily Scarratt and Katy Mclean could complement England men’s best passers – Stuart Lancaster is very fond of the way Billy Twelvetrees passes, for example – while a sevens specialist like Marcus Watson could complete a touch side nicely. Worth thinking about, anyway.
But of course the Irish and Canadians would have to come into the thought process with their strong women’s games, Ireland men’s fine playmakers and both of Canada’s sevens teams being fairly feisty and ever-improving. The Welsh would have something to say about this, and then there’s South Africa and Fiji… Uh oh..
So you’d better answer the question. Who would be the world’s best Test Touch side if current pros and internationals at 15s and sevens came in?
*International touch is an event. However, there would theoretically be more appeal if global superstars from other walks of rugby took part. This blog merely ponders what would happen if they did and played in a revamped, freshly marketed event. The Touch World Cup will take place in Australia in April/May 2015.