National touch champs start with a bang

| 09/03/2014

(CRFU): The National Touch Rugby Championships 2014 started in earnest with six teams entering this year and it promises to be the highest standard of Touch played here in Cayman. Similar to Rugby League in that each team get six attempts to move the ball up the field and score a try. The opposition, instead of tackling the ball carrier, simply makes a “touch” to halt that phase of play. If the team in possession cannot score within their six allocated “touches” the ball is turned over to the opposition.

It is the simplicity of the game mixed with the speed of ball-in-hand and fast pace that makes it so attractive to guys and girls. Playing in mixed teams, each team has a roster of 14 players but only six (three men, three women) can be on the pitch at any one time.

The stand-out game was the mouthwatering clash between two teams who have ascended to the top of Touch in this country in recent times. SteppingStones against Island Air always gets the pulse racing in anticipation of a great spectacle of sport and they didn’t disappoint. It was SteppingStones who drew first blood with a dominant first-half performance.

Out of the blocks faster than Speedy Gonzalez hopped up on a heady cocktail of Red Bull, rocket fuel and Ritalin the ‘Stones caught Island Air cold. Early scores for Simon Raftopolous, Rudolf Weder, and Chris Brussow rocked the “Fly Boys” who were missing some key play-makers in the first half. If Island Air wants to be the Top Gun in this Division then they are going to need to get up to Mach 1 quicker than they did in this game. Shorn of numbers through injury and absence they were shot down by the blitz attack from SteppingStones.

Weder was lightning quick, Brussow “elusivity” personified, and Raftopolous side-stepped so often that I doubt even he knew which way he was going – more importantly though, neither did the defenders. When Jax McCarty made it 5-1 at the half all the pre-game hype seemed a little over blown. Enter Neil “Iceman” Ainscow.

Like a thinner and less good looking version of Val Kilmer, Iceman got the wrong kick-off time but did much to turn round his team’s fortunes. Island Air started to soar through their elaborate manoeuvres and Nic “Maverick” Swartz got one back, followed by two quick touchdowns from Chandra “Cougar” Friesen. As spirited as the comeback was,

SteppingStones were confident that they could score enough to seal the victory. Raftopolous and Brussow added to their personal tally and the solar-powered Morgan Shelver, often the driving force behind the team, scored to make it a South African whitewash on the scoresheet. Kramer “Wolfman” Bell finished the game off with a fine solo effort. It was an 8-5 win to SteppingStones. Island Air’s Captain, Brad “Goose” Stephenson, had to admit that, on this occasion, his goose was well and truly cooked. If he can take anything away from this first outing it must be that Island Air won the second half. Perhaps he should send The Iceman a reminder to get to the game on time next week!

The undercard to this main match saw Heineken Brew Crew defeat KPMG 7-1. Heineken are traditionally a mix of old and new, of experience and youth and, against a very-raw KPMG team, they barely needed to get out of second gear. Big Phill Thompson, large of frame and long of gait, scored a hat-trick of tries whilst the Wild Westin boys, Eddie and Mark, each weighed in with one a-piece. Lisa Kehoe, in her four hundredth touch season must have supped from the Fountain of Youth many years ago asshe continued to bewitch and bedazzle the defence with a series of side-steps, swivels and show-and-go’s. Her try just after half-time was fine reward for her efforts. She probably went for an eleven mile run just to warm down.

The other try was scored by Alex Pineau, a fearsome lion on the pitch, but purring pussycat off it.  Kevin Brett scored for KPMG who battledhard to the end. Many of their players are new to the game and this season will be a baptism of fire to them. They are largely drawn from staff at the eponymous accountancy firm and it’s great to have new people involved.

The last game of the day saw a battle royal between Maples and Maples Reserves – an interesting rivalry between two teams that may look similar in name but were far from similar on the pitch. Maples played a solid game and had a large amount of possession but Maples Reserves got 17 lucky breakaway tries to win the match 17-1. In truth, the somewhat-ironically named “Reserves” had flair, finesse, speed and stamina and simply blew away Maples. They boast a strong roster of established players from the Cayman Leagues but it was new recruit Jane Hyde-Smith who was the stand-out player. New to the island, it is reported that Hyde-Smith represented Australia at Touch and her class with ball-in-hand was evident from the go-get. Soft hands allowed for subtle passes and she was pivotal in much of the Reserves better moments. Ably supported by the elfin-like Riley Mullen, the ‘Reserves seemed to score every time they got the ball and Mullen tallied up a generous seven tries.

The score line may look harsh at first glance but Maples will be glad they have got their kick-off technique down to a fine art (very few teams get THAT much practice) and can now concentrate on other aspects of their game such as defence and attack. They showed real intestinal fortitude to keep going and crossed the line several times only to be thwarted by a desperate last-ditch “touch” from a defender.

Eventually Paul “Barrel” Johnson opened the account for Maples and the Reserves feared a comeback of epic proportions. Sadly none came. Maples can and will have better days. Maples Reserves have plenty in the tank and could be the dark horses in this year’s Championships – perhaps they would have been better named as Maples’ Mercenaries?

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Awesome stuff. Robson is back with a bang!!