Touch tournament ready to go

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TOUCH will take its customary spotlight for the annual Whakatane Touch Association Tournament tomorrow.

Fields were marked and final preparations were made over the past two days and 72 teams will compete across six grades for the 32nd running of the tournament. Eighteen fields will be in use at Rex Morpeth and Rugby parks and Whakatane High School.

On the first day of entries being open, 60 teams snapped up spots and the remaining 12 places were filled soon after.

Before the new year, there were concerns that dusty underfoot conditions could lead to a tricky surface, but the recent barrage of rain has alleviated those concerns.

Tournament director George Rogers said the tournament had been running on a successful formula and they had no reason to change it.

“We have a good cross section of teams across the grades and there are some Australian teams made up of ex-pats as well.

“The rain has helped green up the fields a bit and that should make for a better surface to play on.”

Rogers said in his tournament welcome message the popularity of the event meant some missed out.

“Some loyal teams who have played in the tournament for many years missed out owing to the flood of entries.

“We cannot make the tournament any bigger so we have to live with what we have got.”

The tournament regularly attracts thousands of spectators as the sidelines resemble a makeshift village of gazebos and tents while ice creams and sausage sizzles are as much a part of the day as the action on the fields.

The Baa Baaz team, which has included top sports stars, will feature at the tournament and they not only participate in the men’s restricted session, but sign a heap of autographs and have free giveaways for the young fans.

The Baa Baaz will play all of their games on field nine, between the Whakatane War Memorial Centre and the athletic track.

The Baa Baaz will play in the old boys’ section and has previously included players such as Jerome Kaino, Tana Umaga, Christian Cullen, Rico Gear, Benji Marshall DJ Forbes and Piri Weepu.

The popular pre-tournament shoot-out will start at 6pm tonight, where teams play drop-off games.

The main tournament begins at 10.30am tomorrow with finals played late afternoon.

Sixteen teams will play in the men’s open grade and there are also 16 entries in the men’s restricted and mixed grades. The open women’s and women’s restricted grades have eight teams each.

The old boys section will include eight teams.

Last year two new trophies were introduced. They are named after two All Black legends who have played in the Whakatane tournament.

The Jonah Lomu Memorial Tribute Cup will be awarded to the winner of the men’s open division, while the Jerry Collins Memorial Shield will be contested in the men’s old boys division.

The trophies are in memory of the two former All Blacks who died in recent years. The two trophies were donated by the Baa Baaz team, who have attended 19 tournaments.

adyn.ogle@whakatanebeacon.co.nz