By Gary Lambert
On Mother’s Day weekend it was my privilege to enjoy a full weekend of womens Touch; spectating, coaching, learning and enjoying.
The weekend kicked off with the annual Spring Chick Tournament at Chippenham Rugby Club, the biggest single women’s Touch event in the Northern Hemisphere. Teams had travelled from across the UK and from both France and Germany to play, 30 in total and over 400 players from social to elite level all demonstrating the growth of the sport and its increasing appeal.
I was further excited to have the opportunity to spend the day with Peter Bell, Touch Hall of Fame Inductee and four-time World Cup Gold Medal winning Australia Women’s Open coach. Having flown over from Brisbane the day before, Peter is visiting England to help develop the ETA players and coaches. I found him shivering away, cursing our glorious spring sunshine just as I was debating putting a Top on over my T-shirt. I guess Chippenham can’t compare to the 30 degree Queensland warmth he had left barely a day or two beforehand. We were able to spend time catching up, discussing progress since his last visit a year ago, my own coaching development and that of the Women’s 27s, ETA as a whole and how we are planning for the 2019 World Cup.
Time spent over a hot drink was invaluable as I was able to pick his brains and discuss how to change our defensive policies for the better. As always, Peter was clear and concise in his advice and help. By the end of the chat I had a clear idea of where the squad’s focus needs to be and a road map to the World Cup. Moreover my own understanding and clarity of the concepts had developed more than I thought possible in such a short space of time.
Outside we were able to watch some excellent Touch, most noticeably the three squads from Exeter Uni and the talent in their 1st team. Similarly the incredibly youthful and talented Bath and Loughborough Universities all mixing with the long established experience of teams such as Galaxy and Hot Custard. It was abundantly clear to us both that there has been a major shift in the women’s game in England. The traditional club based development has been joined by the University expansion. The University Touch Series has clearly yielded a major groundswell not just in the numbers of young players entering the sport but is also driving the level of skill and competition. This is all good news for the Elite pathways and the future of the sport.
We were able to wander between games, spotting potential future talent in players as young as 14 from some of the more social teams, speak to their coaches and help them identify the talent pathways available to them. All the while I was able to soak up Peter’s every word, comment and point, learning more and more by the match. Peter gave his time and advice to squad coaches and players alike, all listening intently. There was even opportunity for me to expand the Women’s 27s squad and invite new talent to train with us.
The tournament was a huge success with Hot Custard beating Cambridge in the grand final. It was an excellent tournament and credit as always to those who refereed the matches and to those who helped with the organisation, not least Jen Palmer who runs the whole show and puts in such huge effort to ensure the whole thing runs.
Sunday gave me the opportunity to coach the England Royals WO and the England Women’s 27s squads. Over 30 players turned up to a beautiful sunny training session in Bristol. We were again joined in the afternoon by Peter, who offered to help work with our line defences. Putting it simply, if he offers to help with something specific then it is time to bin the session plan and make the most of his experience and knowledge. The players were transfixed as he discussed concepts in defence and despite a full day’s play in their legs they worked harder and harder to make the most of his help. Some of the players looked almost star struck as he delivered his session. I can only hope that someday they might look at me with the same level of attention and awe! The session finished with another opportunity to invite one of the Permit Players to join the 27s campaign, a demonstration of one of the benefits of the Permit system to the ongoing development of Women’s Touch.