Island sides are set for international appearances at the European Championships this summer and one eye has already been placed on the 2021 World Cup, which could be staged in America.
Jersey hosted the 2016 European Championships at Les Quennevais but have since endured a ‘plateau’ on the player-number front – something director of coaching Chris Veal is keen to change.
‘When you have a home tournament people come out of the woodwork, which is great, and we would love them to carry on,’ Veal explained. ‘But they have hockey, football, rugby. Touch isn’t their first choice as it’s not seen as an all-year-round sport. We’re trying to change that and this is the first year where we’ve almost done a full calendar year.
‘We’ve not gone backwards as such – we have more coaches involved and more referees out there – but I’d say it’s plateaued.
‘Our men’s over-40s squad is going strong. They get a few new players every month but for the mixed, and those who want to represent the Island, it’s a bit stagnant there. We lose two and get two back but we’re not increasing our pool of players, so the main aim is to boost player numbers and also increase the number of females playing. However we get that growth, we’re not really fussy, but if we can increase our female player base at the same time it would be a huge plus.
‘There is a lot of cross-over with other sports. We have one girl who plays netball for Team Jets, five guys have played rugby for Jersey Athletic and seven of the females have been in the Reds Women’s squad. I think we have around 15 players in total who use touch to compliment other skill sets.
‘Lately everything has been pitched at the lower end of the scale as that’s where we’re trying to develop and grow. Touch is really good for inclusivity and there’s big scope for everyone. For me it’s more than just going for a run – going to Parkrun doesn’t inspire me but if you get me to chase a ball I’m regularly running 5-6km during a session. It gets people moving and if they don’t want to represent the Island they can just play in the league in the summer.’
Veal will lead Jersey’s mixed open squad to the 2020 European Championships in Nottingham this July – a tournament won by the Caesareans in 2000, 2002 and 2004 – while the men’s O40s are hoping to build on their semi-final appearance at the Senior Europeans in Portugal last year.
‘We haven’t discussed what our goal is for the mixed yet but if we can control certain things and play to our strengths we will win more than we’ll lose,’ Veal said.
‘We’ve finished fourth a few times recently and if we can get back into that semi-final mix that would be an awesome achievement. There are around 15 to 18 teams entered, so we’re aiming for that top third in Europe.
‘Sometimes it’s nice being the big fish on an Island because that’s safe, but I like getting out of our comfort zone and it’s always good to play against the best.’
Veal is also keeping his fingers crossed for a trip to the World Cup next year, although he admits it depends on which nation is chosen as hosts. There are suggestions of it being held across in the US but a competition closer to home would be preferred.
Jersey has not sent a team to the top-tier event since 2011 due to costs.
He added: ‘Our long-term goal is to get at least one of the two teams to the World Cup so having it in Europe would be nice, but even the Euros are getting too big for some nations. It’s reported to be 20% bigger than when we held it and they approached us for this year, but we couldn’t guarantee there would be beds for everyone as it’s in July, in peak tourism time.’
Open training sessions are held every Sunday at Les Quennevais, from 10.15am-12pm, while entries for the 2020 Mixed Touch League are now open. Visit www.jerseytouch.co.uk for more information. Sponsorship opportunities are also available.