Leanne Fridd has been an avid fan of touch ever since her tomboy days growing up in New Zealand, and the Dubai-based schoolteacher was named player of the tournament in the mixed section on her debut at last year’s Zurich Corporate Touch 6s Tournament.
The head of primary at Safa Community School only entered at the last minute too.
She is once again part of the Atkins team entered into this year’s event, which takes place Friday at the Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club. Off the field, Fridd is buoyed by the growth of the sport worldwide and in the UAE thanks to Middle East Touch. Having been in the UAE for three years, she is also pleased to see more women and young girls taking up the sport and is happy to play her small part in developing that further.
When did you start playing touch?
I started playing touch when I was about five. However, I think I was dragged down to the touch grounds from the age of three as my dad played.
What got you into the sport?
I’m a Kiwi, so it was actually very normal to play netball and touch rugby as a girl. Although it was actually my dad who really got me into it – I watched him play from a very young age and so I must have developed the touch bug through him. I was also jealous that he used to teach my brother, and being a bit of tomboy, I wanted to prove that I could play as well. I also wasn’t allowed to play proper rugby as dad felt it wasn’t a girl’s sport.
As a teacher now, what would you say about girls playing touch, rugby or any sport?
I think it’s so important that girls have a go at any sports they like – it’s great for their interpersonal skills and understanding of collaboration, two very important skills which they’ll need in the future.
What would you say to other women out there who have never played the game?
The best way to learn is to play. The other players are really good at teaching you the basic workings of the game and all the girls that I have played with here – where it has been their first time – have picked it up very quickly. It’s also so much more fun than pounding the treadmill at the gym.
What are the benefits?
The great thing is that the games are very quick and you get to combine attacking and defending.Playing against the boys is also a lot of fun because they make the competition so much more challenging, which means you learn a lot and get very fit in the process.
What has touch got going for it that other sports are maybe lacking?
It’s a very social game and always a has a nice atmosphere. Last weekend we played in a junior nations tournament – it was beautiful weather, music was playing and there was a great standard of touch being played. It kind of made me feel like I was playing sport back home in New Zealand. Sometimes I think Dubai lacks ‘normality’ and I feel playing sport over here brings that back.
Why did you decide to take part in the Zurich Corporate Touch 6s Tournament last year?
Well it’s actually a funny story as my very good friend Fraser, who I used to play against on Wednesday nights, began dating my best friend Jemma. So, I think he asked me to play in the hope that she would come along to watch. They actually got engaged recently and I like to claim that I was the reason for this, because I introduced them.
So the game has had a positive impact not just on your life, but others too?
Yes, definitely. It’s a great way to meet people and create different circles of friends.
How did you feel when you were named player of the tournament at last year’s Zurich tournament?
Embarrassed because I was the ringer for the team. I actually didn’t work for Atkins and was in a little bit of pain as I dislocated my finger in the final.
What are the aims for this year?
I have no idea, it’s the end of our school inspection week, so I will need to get through that first. However, I am sure my team-mate Fraser has big aspirations for the team.
It’s a relatively young tournament but can you see it growing?
Definitely, even this year I can see that more school teams are beginning to enter.
John Larkins and ME Touch have had a huge impact on the game in the UAE. What do you think about the work they do?
I think what John has done over here is great – he has raised the profile of a great sport, in a context which you wouldn’t expect to see touch being played.
Do you play touch at your school too?
No, unfortunately. However, we do have in-house weekly sport competitions with our staff on Thursday afternoons and next year I will be strategic with my recruitment so we can enter a strong team into the Zurich Touch 6s.
With Sonny Bill Williams’ sister Niall playing sevens and the NZ sevens team being at the top of the women’s game, how good is that for young girls back home to see?
I think it’s great to see any team be successful in a global capacity and it’s brilliant for our girls to have positive role models who are successful in both sport and academics.
Your dad played rugby which is why you became interested. Who was your favourite team growing up and what players inspired you?
I think when I was younger the Otago Highlanders, but I didn’t have any key players who really inspired me. However, as a true Kiwi, obviously Richie McCaw because of his leadership skills on and off the field.
Going the distance is a common phrase associated with sport, but there can’t be many amateur players who have gone to lengths Craig Nutt has.
The Abu Dhabi Saracens prop, like many expatriates, arrived in the UAE in September 2014 embarking on an exciting new life abroad.
The electrician had sparked up a new relationship with Sarries, but didn’t want to sever ties with his old club Bargoed, located in the south
Wales valleys, who were pushing for promotion to Welsh rugby’s top flight Principality Premiership the season that he left.
So, being a man of his word and not wanting to leave his boyhood club high and dry, Nutt spent the 2014/15 season flying back and forth between the UAE and UK every weekend to fulfill his contract.
The result was the 32-year- old playing a total of 30 matches during the campaign – 14 games back home and 16 in the Emirates.
Nutt himself estimates he completed the mammoth effort at a total cost of £2,000 (Dh9,159) personally, while Bargoed would have spent perhaps double that helping to bring one of their most important players home for the weekend.
In fact Nutt would be out of the UAE for less than 48 hours on each of those 14 weekends. He would often play for Sarries in the UAE Premiership or Gulf Top Six at 19:00 on a Friday before heading straight to airport, landing in London at 07:00 the next morning.
Kick-off with Bargoed was at 14:00 on Saturdays, but Nutt would usually be back in the Big Smoke to catch a 22:00 return flight to the UAE capital that would land at around 06:45 on Sunday morning, which would give the rugby nut just enough time to get to the office for 08:00.
There are just over 3,500 miles separating Abu Dhabi and Bargoed, 18 miles from the Welsh capital, Cardiff. So each week, Nutt would fly 7,000 miles – a grand total of 98,000 air miles for the season.
“It was all a bit surreal, it was all a blur,” admits Nutt, who took up a position as a service manager with Tyco Gas & Flame Detection in September 2014.
“Playing two games in two countries, 3,000 miles apart and going back to work all in a little over 24 hours. It took a lot of getting used to and was a very busy time. I took a lot of painkillers and did a lot of sleeping on the plane.
“It would have been close to £2,000 out of my own pocket I spent that season. They (Bargoed) paid for a fair bit too, more than I did. Every flight was £400-450 and then I was having to get lifts from London. If no-one could pick me up I’d rent a car. It was definitely a team effort.”
Nutt’s extreme efforts were rewarded with great success though. Sarries, only established in 2011 and living in the shadow of more illustrious Abu Dhabi rivals Harlequins, had a breakout year, beating Doha in a herculean effort to lift the West Asia Championship.
A week later Nutt was back home helping Bargoed lift the Swalec Championship and sealing promotion to the Premiership.
Glory or not, Nutt was just fulfilling what he sees as a simple promise.
“Bargoed were pushing to get into the Premiership and I’d signed a contract before I left to come here,” he said.
“I left them high and dry a little bit so I said I would help them out as much as I could and come back when I could. It worked out that I played 14 games in Wales as well as a full season out here.
“I’d play here on a Friday, head straight to the airport, land in London, drive to Wales, play, drive back to London and be on a plane and land here Sunday morning and go back to work.
“Sometimes I managed to book the Sunday off so I could stay after the game and spend time with the guys but most of the time I’d come straight back, land here Sunday in time for work.
“It was exciting to come out here but I was really committed to my club back home too and they’ve been really good to me over the years. The chairman is one of my best mates and I couldn’t let them down. So when I could go back and play I did.
“It was a hard slog, especially as we did so well here too. With the fact we played Premiership and getting to the Top 6 final too it was a lot of effort, but it was fantastic.
“We won the West Asia title one weekend then the following weekend I’d flown home and won the league with Bargoed too. I was really fortunate.”
Nutt even flew back for several games last season, but whenever he’s now back home, he’s happy to do his bit for the club from the stands.
He paid special tribute to his very understanding wife Megan, a teacher, who allowed him to be gone so many weekends, as well as Sarries physio Tim Fletcher, of BounceBack Physiotherapy, who worked his own miracle keeping Nutt on the field for the entire season.
It was a night of surprise in the West Asia Premiership as Abu Dhabi Harlequins suffered their first defeat of the season in Doha, while city
rivals Saracens picked up their first win in nearly four months to move off the foot of the table.
Mike McFarlane’s Quins were unbeaten in nine games heading to the Fortress, but Doha are in sublime form of late and Alex Natera’s side
pulled off a spectacular 29-16 win to move to within three points of the Zayed Sports City side.
A bonus point win for Doha saw Iliesa Rakabu, Isirelli Buimaiwai, Jope Tikomailepanoni and Pita Tuilagi cross for tries, while Brook
Tremayne converted three tries and added a penalty.
Despite the win, Natera still feels his side have a lot to work on if they are to topple Quins if the two sides meet again in the playoffs.
“We’re happy but not totally delighted,” said Natera.
“They played into our hands to be fair. Our defence was what we wanted, our kicking game and our set-piece is what enabled us to control
the game, and they never took the lead
“But, we got a lot to work on. As I say they played in to our hands a bit. They won't do that in the playoffs.”
Back in Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, Winston Cowie’s Sarries were celebrating just a second win in 10 games, coming from behind to secure a
38-33 win against Dubai Hurricanes with a last-minute try.
The bonus point win was secured thanks to a Rickus Swart hat-trick and tries for player-coach Cowie and Garth Van Niekirk, with the hosts
coming from 16 points adrift in the final 15 minutes at Al Ghazal against the 13-man visitors, who replied through their own hat-trick man,
Mike Jasko, with Darryl Johnson also touching down.
“We finally escaped and it was good to be on the right end of one of the close ones,” said Cowie.
“We came from 16 points down with 15 minutes to go to win it off the scrum in the last play of the game. I’m so pleased for the guys after
such a big effort this season but limited results.
“The guys really showed their character today and grafted when all seemed lost.”