The 2005 Digicel NAWIRA Caribbean 7s Championships were held in Barbados recently and the weekend had been eagerly anticipated in the Cayman Rugby community as it saw the culmination of five years of effort to bring rugby to the schools of Cayman.
Coached by Richard Adams and Steve Clark, 10 players from the squad of 12 were from the Cayman Rugby Academy and were competing on the open men’s stage for the first time.
Over the last five years, the Cayman Rugby Football Union (CRFU), and Technical Director Adams, have developed the Cayman Rugby Academy. The Academy now welcomes 40 top athletes, and 10 of these were traveling to Barbados to contest the region’s toughest 7s tournament-the Caribbean Championships.
Cayman was facing three games on the Saturday, with their performance determining the number matches on the Sunday.
The Cayman squad was very young, with an average age of 20 for the squad of 12 players, five of whom were only 16.
Cayman had drawn the most difficult pool of the three in the tournament, with the top two nations from 2004 – Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados – not only in their pool, but also the first two games.
As expected the first two games were the toughest, with both teams fielding highly experienced teams. Nevertheless, the Cayman squad demonstrated that it had as much courage as talent as they did not drop their heads and the lopsided scores did not reflect either their efforts or their improvement, said Adams
This was all proven in the third game when Cayman strode out to face an experienced and confident Dominican Republic team.
The initial encounters were tough, with neither side able to penetrate solid defense, yet Cayman’s confidence grew as they realized they could match it with this experienced team. The dam finally broke midway through the first half when Stu McMillan sliced through the Dominican Republic defense, and the onslaught began. Matthew Seales added two more, Jonathan Doak another, and finally Adrian Porter capped a great game with a late try to seal the game 33-0.
Cayman finished third in its initial pool, meaning it was contesting the Plate, and was facing Barbados B and St Vincent at a minimum on the Sunday. Both teams had contested strongly on Saturday, with Barbados B nearly upsetting the Northern Caribbean champions Bahamas, and St Vincent nearly beating the Mexican team that had defeated a combined West Indies side at the IRB LA Sevens.
Sunday dawned with Cayman sore from the hard games on Saturday, but brimming with confidence after their win. The win meant they had equaled Caymans efforts at the last Caribbean Championships, so anything more was a massive improvement for such a young squad.
Cayman were drawn to face Barbados B first, a team with a huge amount of speed, and confident they could replicate their squad mates efforts of the day before. This wasn’t to be – Saturday had taught Cayman a lot and they came out with all guns blazing.
Trapping Barbados in their half with a clever kicking game, they dared them to run the ball back, Jonathan Doak and Captain Tim Rossiter tackled hard, dominating the breakdown and turning over the ball. Quick distribution of the turnover ball saw young Michael Mandersen one-on-one with Barbados fastest player. Michael demonstrated his worldclass pace by running around his more fancied rival for the first score of the game. Cayman confidence increased as the game went on, with Matthew Seales in particular not only running hard, but devastating in defense.
Cayman had booked a place in the plate semi-finals with the win, but they wanted a victory over St Vincent, a team unlucky not to be contesting the Cup as they had proved extremely strong, and had also dispatched Barbados B. The early exchanges were tough, with Cayman’s defense impenetrable, and St Vincent resorting to all sorts of nefarious tactics to win, said Adams.
Despite this, Cayman held firm and did not respond in kind, keeping the game in St Vincent’s half and sticking to the game plan. Jonathan Doak and Adrian Porter continued their fine tournament form, dominating the scrum and break-down, and Josh Clark, Kramer Bell, Justin Vasquez, Darren Montegue and Eugene Pasqual carving up the St Vincent defense. In the end St Vincent did not even look like scoring, and Cayman’s perfect Sunday continued.
Two wins from two matches meant Cayman faced St Lucia in the Plate Semi-Final. The winner would play the British Virgin Islands for the Plate, the loser knocked out. Like Barbados and St Vincent, St Lucia was a fast, tough team. The encounter was to be even tougher, as Cayman had suffered some bad injury news with Stu McMillan, Eugene Pasqual and Darren Montegue unable to take the field. Despite this, the previous matches had taught Cayman that the entire squad could step up and were confident of another win.
The early encounters were tough, with St Lucia making the first breakthrough with some slick support out wide. Cayman hit back through Adrian Porter, as he sliced through double coverage, but was unable to convert, leaving them 2 points adrift at the half. Cayman shuffled the team at half time to respond to St Lucia’s tactics, with Mark Soto coming on in the scrum, and Tim Rossiter moving out to fly-half.
The second half continued in the same vein, with neither team able to breach excellent defense. Cayman were increasingly desperate as time ticked by, needing another score to win, but in the end St Lucia managed to breakthrough and seal the game, taking a converted try lead.
The final exchanges were tough, with St Lucia playing the game in Cayman’s half, and Cayman unable to break their solid defense again. Time expired and Cayman was knocked out, losing 12-5 in a hard fought match.
Despite the loss, it was the most successful 7s tournament Cayman had ever contested.
Tournament officials and players, initially skeptical of the abilities of the young Cayman squad, were stunned by their amazing performance, and vociferous in their praise. Coaches Richard Adams and Steven Clark had shown faith in their young players, and built a side with not only great talent and courage, but a very bright future.