Rugby has traditionally been a very successful sport on pacific island nations (Fiji, Samoa and Tonga are the best examples) but has always been viewed as an expatiate sport in the Caribbean and Cayman.
As the club facilities are being rededicated this weekend, it is a poignant moment to reflect that, whilst this notion may have been true in the past, there are strong signals that the sport is becoming predominantly Caymanian.
The catalyst for this change has been the schools program. Started in 2001 and before Hurricane Ivan, rugby was the first sport to offer coaching to children between the ages of 5 to 17 in the schools.
‘Its something we are very proud of at Cayman Rugby. We were the first to go into schools and offer children the opportunity to let off some steam. Particularly with some of the problems schools in Cayman have faced recently, it is nice to think that Rugby could offer a child a different interest. ‘ says Richard Adams, the Technical Director of the club who has been responsible for developing junior rugby so successfully.
The Rugby Club suffered extensive damage during the storm and, like many things on the Island, this could have stopped progress dead. However, the effect seems to have been just the opposite.
Reflecting on this Richard believes that ‘Unlike other sports such as swimming or cricket where you need a pool or equipment, to play rugby you just need a group of people and a ball. This meant that after the storm we were one of the first sports on the Island to get back up and running. When you consider how devastated the facilities were in South Sound this was no mean feat’
Since then the Junior Program has really taken off. Most schools on the island currently participate which means that over 4,000 children are in the program. Richard adds with a smile ‘The important statistic, as it is the key to our future, is that we estimate some 60% of these children are Cayamanian’.
The Union has also developed a very successful Academy Program. Aimed exclusively at young Caymanians between the age of 15 – 21. The club, with the assistance of sponsors and subsidies, covers certain costs such as gym membership and offers a more focused development regime. Derek Haines, President of the Club explains ‘Rugby, as in the Pacific Islands, suits the natural build in Caymanian athletes, they are not only strong but also have speed, agility and balance. As a result many of the kids really enjoy it, particularly when they get to knock each other over. When someone shows an appetite and ability for the game, we want to ensure that money does not prevent development. It is also important that the club’s coaches are focused to allow maximum development’.
This approach appears to be paying dividends. At the recent Carribean sevens Championship in Barbados a twelve man squad was selected that comprised mainly of academy players. 9 of the side were Caymanian Academy players and only 3 of the squad were over 21 years old. Cayman finished an unprecedented 7th in the tournament, 3 places higher than it had ever done for many years. Derek admits ‘at the time we thought it may have been a bit of a gamble but with hindsight it was one of the best things we could have done for the players development. One or two players are really starting to show the potential to enter the senior game and professional clubs in the UK are starting to look to us for potential players to enter their Academies overseas .’
It is not all smiles at the club though as Derek Haines explains. ‘ In some ways Richard has been a victim of his own success. The Cayman Government and the IRB have been very good to us but they both have limitations on the amount of money they can contribute. The now constant use of the facilities by the schools and junior program has outgrown our resources and we are in desperate need of sponsorship from the community’.
‘We are very honoured to have the Governor rededicating our facility on Saturday and plan to use the opportunity to show the community just how strong Rugby is at the youth level and our plans for future development. The biggest struggle we face when approaching sponsors is the perception that rugby is not a Caymanian sport. Come down on Saturday and you will see that this is simply not true anymore’.