In the lead-up to the 2015 FIT Touch World Cup, in Coffs Harbour Australia we catch up with OJ Hawea from Touch USA as they embark on their seventh World Cup campaign.
1. OJ – How would you describe the game of touch rugby to those in USA who perhaps aren’t as familiar with the game?
Touch is a high intensity fast paced 40 minute game with rugby skills however with very little contact. The simple objective of the game is to move the ball down the field by running and passing only backwards ultimately scoring a touchdown or ‘TRY’. When a player is ‘touched’ by the defense, they have to place the ball on the ground between their legs to start another ‘down’, for lack of a better phrase. The offensive team has 6 touches (‘downs’) to try and score before it’s a turnover of possession. Each ‘touch’ happens with no delay and the defense must retreat 5 meters once a touch is made. This happens very quickly and plays are designed to get the defense moving backwards and side to side. Each try (‘touch down’) is 1 point and squads are typically made up of 14 players with 6 on the field at one time. There are unlimited substitutions to accommodate for the speed of the game.
2. How would you describe the level of Touch talent here in USA?
The level of Touch talent in the USA is extremely high. As a sporting nation, you are never at a loss for talent. The hardest part is developing that talent as we don’t have the elite competition they have in more experienced playing nations. The future is bright though as we have established a great relationship with ESPN & Disney to host an annual USA Touch Tournament which attract teams from all over the World held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World in Florida. This year’s tournament is scheduled for 9th – 11th October.
3. What teams will you be taking to represent USA in the 2015 TWC in Australia?
We will be taking 5 USA Teams including all three Open division teams (Men’s, Womens and Mixed) as well as over 30 and over 40 men’s teams.
4. What preparations are the athletes going through in the lead up to the 2015 TWC?
Each team has specific training systems that they are working through in their own areas as well as individual fitness programs and goals to achieve. We have some camps building into the main camp in Phoenix which included Los Angeles, Portland and Washington DC that players will attend.
5. How many countries will be participating in the 2015 TWC?
The official number of countries stands at 25 right now including 93 teams.
6. Who are the favorites to medal at the 2015 TWC?
Australia would be the favorite as they have won most of the medals in the past, being on their home soil would increase their desire to continue that run, but New Zealand will be hot on their heels. Every division that has included both countries has always seen them meet in the final. Outside of those two touch rugby powerhouses the bronze medals in each division are really up for grabs and will come down to who can consistently perform throughout the whole tournament.
7. What are your expectations of each team representing USA?
We are realistic in our goals and expectations. We are looking to finish in the top four in each division we are competing in. It may be very ambitious as our best finish was 10th at the last world cup, however the games has seen development here over the last 4 years and we have worked hard which is why we have set lofty goals to best represent the USA.
8. Who should be look out for in the USA teams at the 2015 TWC?
You should be looking out for our exciting young players who we hoping will learn a great deal from this experience and carry the torch moving forward. We haven’t traditionally had young teams, but both men’s and mixed open sides have invested in the future by naming two young players in each team who we are hoping will represent USA for many years to come. In the Mixed side, young players to watch are Talo Fetu’uaho from Portland and Alex Rossi from the Los Angeles area. In the men’s team they are Malik Vano from Phoenix and Enosh Griffin from Dallas. As this is our first year taking a women’s only team, we should be looking out for the ladies as well including impressive teenager Ellie Koncki. Overall it’s a very exciting time in USA Touch with the development of these younger players and a good mix of experience making up 5 USA World Cup teams.
9. How can we follow the progress of the teams at the TWC?
I believe the federation will be updating scores through Social Media and there will be live streaming of high profile games. All of this information can be found on the tournament website at http://www.touchworldcup.com/
10. How can new players get involved in Touch rugby here in USA?
I would follow the organization ‘USA Touch Rugby’ on Facebook and contact us through those channels. We can very easily get you started in an area where we have established players/teams. Touch is a game for all so we welcome young, old, big, small, male or female players.