A Weekend of Touch Rugby – 2023 Tokushima Tournament


Edited by Emily Guo

At the beginning of June, Ehime fielded two teams for this year’s Touch Rugby Tournament in Tokushima . With 3 veteran players from last years tournament, and 12 new recruits, most of them never having played rugby before, we came ready to try something new, to have fun, and give our best to meet the challenge. 

Our two teams, Team Beautiful Princesses (we’re in Ehime 愛媛 after all) and the Ehime Juicers (where the Mikans reign), played two days of touch rugby. Other teams came from all over: Tokushima and Kagawa JETs playing against and alongside us, a team of really experienced Australians, the Shikoku University rugby team, and players representing all ages. 

Captain of the Ehime Juicers and organizer of Ehime’s participation in this whole tournament, Freya, evading a touch from the Kagawa JET team.

Ehime Juicers (from top left to bottom right): Jacob, Neo, Luke, Abby, Allison, and Freya.

Team Beautiful Princess (from top left to bottom right): Peter, Jordan, Bria, Jake, Sage, Pete, Emily, and Nick.

So what did our players think of their touch rugby experience? 

Here are the perspectives from some of our athletes from the weekend. Each one brings a different experience with rugby. As someone who played alongside them, they are all lovely teammates who raised everyone’s spirits the whole weekend.

Jordan Rocke

Jordan is a veteran player from last year’s Touch Rugby Tournament who helped get the ball rolling (pun not originally intended) on recruiting participants for this year’s tournament. If not for his efforts, I can say for sure that our teams would not have had the same level of turnout and enthusiasm. Aside from being a wonderful teammate, he is also a gem of a person who makes everyone feel supported and welcome.

You would think that because this wasn’t my first time attending the rugby tournament, I would have some idea what to expect, but that wasn’t the case. First time around we had attended a tournament in rural Miyoshi in the midst of covid. Getting a team together had been my passion project, largely inspired by the old articles in the Mikan talking about how much fun it had been. Despite everything, we’d managed to find 5 players (myself included), but only one of us had had any experience in rugby at all. I had a great time playing with the Ehime Goonies, but that definitely seemed like a one off.

This time was completely different. We had a handful of people with experience in rugby, and a solid signup roster of 14 Ehime JETs to fill out what became two teams. This game was in Tokushima city, and one of the things I was most excited about was more amateur teams! Last year it had only been the Ehime Goonies and Tokushima AJET. This time Tokushima AJET was joined by the two Ehime teams, as well as the Apes coming in from Kagawa. I’m not concerned at all by playing outside our class, but I was excited to have a few more chill games against other JETs! Even more excitingly, I was just Some Guy! I didn’t have to organise anything, and other than some early recruiting, the organising came down entirely to the AJET members in attendance, Bria, Emily and Freya (who did bloody awesome).

The tournament itself was incredibly fun. Tsuyu took the weekend off to allow us to get a healthy burn, and just like last year, it was incredible seeing the drastic improvement in the Ehime teams from day to day. I’ve got speed but no stamina, so I never finished any of the games, but it was great being in there, and finding places I could make myself most useful. Although we both ended up at the bottom of the brackets, I’m just so glad I could play with my friends, and hopefully did my best to give a good impression of the Ehime JET community.

As for highlights, I got voted MVP for the first game, which was flattering. I’m convinced it was mostly because the opposing team liked my hat, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I also really enjoyed being acting captain for the last few games after Jake was injured. After two tournaments I think I have enough of a feel for the game to see where our weak points are, and if I was here for another tournament, I think I’d really enjoy being a captain for the full tournament!

Subbing in for the Ehime Juicer’s, Jordan (left) passing the rugby ball to Neo (right).

I can’t attend the next tournament, but I absolutely wish I could. However, there’s a good chance that you, the person reading this, can! If you get the opportunity, it’s absolutely worth it. Even if you don’t see yourself as particularly sporty (I sure as hell ain’t!) it’s a great chance to try out a game you may not otherwise play. The only advice I have going in is to play for fun, not to win. The joy of the tournament is winning or losing as a team, and if the only focus is winning, it can end up causing a bit of a divide between people who are just there to have fun and socialise, and those taking it really seriously. Just treat it as a chance to make new friends, and have a nice time!

Bria Hemphill

Bria played rugby (the real version with tackling, not touch rugby) in university and acted as a bastion of support / coach / cheerleader both during and outside of playing time. Here, she shares her expectations going into the weekend and how she felt about the tournament once we got to playing.

I didn’t have any strong expectations about the tournament. I knew we weren’t going to have time to practice, so I wanted to go in with an “It’s all for fun!” kind of mindset. Plus, I played 15’s rugby for a few years, so I assumed the rules were about the same (I WAS WRONG LOL).

Of course, strategy is an integral part of the sport, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be for me! Breaking through the opponents defense can only get you so far if just the touch of a hand is all it takes to set you back!

I was very grateful for the game demonstration at the start of the tournament. The back-peddle drill and the touch-and-place drill helped solidify the main motions of touch rugby for me. I’ll be sure to mention them to our captains next year!

Bria (center) passing the ball to advance up the field. Teammates Pete (wearing jersey #1) and Peter (wearing jersey #5) are supporting the other side.

My favorite part of the tournament was towards the end on Sunday. After a day of play on Saturday, I felt like we were actually getting used to the strategy aspect of touch rugby. Quite a few of us had played rugby and could rely on moving through our opponents and scoring, or at least advancing towards the try-line. I could see it was hard for a few of us to break that habit! But, in the last few games, I could see progress in our plays. As long as there is some semblance of teamwork and progress, I’m happy!

Overall, I’m very proud of both Ehime teams! For having no team practice, learning the rules the morning of the tournament, and having varying levels of fitness, we tried our best and were able to score a few try’s! And I want to give a HUGE thanks to Jake Goodyear for coaching us through his injury [a pulled hamstring] as well!

10/10 would attend the Tokushima Touch Rugby Tournament again. Thanks for hosting us!

Jake Goodyear

One of our two team captains during the tournament, Jake, came in with a wealth of rugby knowledge. But though he is an experienced veteran, one of my favorite things about how he led our team was how he focused not just on strategy, but on building our team’s confidence and spirit as the games went on. 

Unfortunately, in the third game, he pulled his hamstring while going to score and coached us from the sidelines the rest of the tournament. Despite that, he was awarded (and fully deserved) the MVP for our team. He is such a wonderful teammate and leader!

Captain of Team Beautiful Princess, Jake receiving the MVP at the tournament’s closing ceremony.

The weekend was a delight. I hadn’t played any form of rugby since 2018, and it was fantastic to be out on a pitch again. However, what grounded the experience beautifully was sharing the field with a group of people from all over the world who have all come to Japan for one reason or another; it reminds me of the strange feeling of destiny that the random actions of 8 billion people can manifest and makes me aware and grateful of how we are connected more deeply than we think.

My expectations for the weekend were minimal. I was aware of our team’s lack of significant experience and training time. However, after playing the first game for another team, and noticing their struggles in defence and with communication, I wanted to make our targets for the day to 1) have fun, and 2) make sure we always get back and spread out in defence. This short term goal was immediately beneficial, as whilst we lost all our games on the first weekend, we kept all our games really close. 

Physically, the feeling of playing rugby again was terrific. I’ve a complicated relationship with the sport, but it served an essential purpose in moulding me into the human being I’ve become. It provided a platform to overcome and do all the things that have happened in the years since I started to move on from the sport. I took great joy in watching many people try to come to grips with a sport they knew nothing about until this weekend. I was honoured to play a part in helping them learn, and I hope they had fun as they did so. I was grateful for the respect they paid me, and being voted MVP of the weekend meant the world to me.

Sports can mean so much to many; my life wouldn’t be the same without it. It’s opened doors and taught me countless lessons about what individualism means and how it belongs in the collective. To make whole, we must be whole. No matter the size, there are few more significant ‘wholes’ than a community, maximising themselves for the community. Some examples are sports teams, relationships, friendships, schools, and families. We all bring something different to the table, things that may take time to become obviously helpful but can be irreplaceable in the right environment.

Jake (center) going for a try – the name for a point in rugby – against team Australia.

My favorite part of the whole weekend was seeing our team develop through each game, both as players and as a collective team. I’m proud of the fact that the points of leadership I wanted to emphasise were praised specifically by my peers, and I’m proud of the effort everybody put in, on and off the field.

I would go again in a heartbeat, and it’s sad to know I will be leaving Japan in the near future!

Players in Action

Here are some action shots from the 2023 Touch Rugby Tournament in Tokushima. Check out our cool as athletes!

Shoutout to the amazing and kind-hearted Sage (far left), who provided so much of the moral support for our teams over the weekend. And who made sure to capture all our plays on camera 🙂

Thanks for reading! Check out our article from last year’s tournament:

Two Whole Days of Near Non-Stop Rugby: The Tokushima AJET Touch Rugby Tournament

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