The final match in the Diamond Law Associates series was one of the highest quality matches ever to be seen in the Cayman Islands. Played on a beautiful, but extremely hot, Saturday afternoon at the South Sound Rugby Ground (SSG), and watched by a large crowd, the Cayman Islands National Team took on Canada’s U21 World Cup team.
The record crowd was treated to a fast paced, hard hitting, high-quality affair that was hotly contested until the final whistle. The so-called ‘young’ guns of Canada were an extremely large, fit, well-drilled side, that showed why they are ranked 10 in the world; Despite this, the game was a tight, close run affair with only Caymans achilles heel – their goal kicking – being the difference in the end.
The Canadian team was assembled from young professional players all over Canada and has used this tour as a training run to choose their world cup side. The tour was run under world cup conditions – with strict guidelines on behaviour, hard training sessions, and four matches to vet their team and combinations. Their four games, collectively known as the Diamond Law Associates series, were against Cayman A, Bermuda, a barbarian side consisting of Cayman and Bermuda, and a final match against the full Cayman National side.
The Cayman side, whilst only social players, was close to the best side ever seen here in recent times, with an excellent mix of powerful forwards, and fast, skillful backs. Unfortunately, a lack of opportunities such as this match, limited their playing time together to the Bermuda match the weekend before.
Canada had also played Bermuda, with both teams recording comfortable wins against the former Caribbean powerhouse, and these comprehensive victories set the stage for an epic battle on Saturday.
From the outset the game lived up to its reputation, big hits and high speed plays flowed from end to end. Great skill and tenacious defense was shown by both teams to hold the other out, and it was only the Canadian’s goal kicking accuracy that was the difference for the first 30 minutes.
The Cayman scrum was unbelievably dominant, pushing the Canadians around at will, however the all round pace, live-wire back row, and a dominant line-out, kept the Canadians on top. Canada had the lions share of possession and territory – the week of training and playing together had improved their play immeasurably – however Cayman held firm, looking dangerous in attack, but were unable to keep the ball for long periods.
It was not until close to half time that Canada managed to cross Caymans well guarded line. A set piece move with a dummy runner impeding defenders was allowed by the referee and the Canadian full-back followed his blocker through for a score. Shortly thereafter the half ended with Canada lucky to be on top 13-0.
The second half saw Cayman lift and play a tighter game by utilizing their tight five’s dominance to nullify the Canadian pace. It worked well, with a great drive seeing half-back Sam Sage cross for a try. Unfortunately the kicking woes continued, with Cayman unable to convert, but the match was well and truly in the balance.
This sparked Canada, and they camped in Cayman’s half, yet like the first stanza, they were unable to break through. Cayman turned over the ball, and rather than sending it deep, they chipped over the top. With the play broken down, the defensive line was in tatters and some great handling and support saw the Canadian counter attack score a great try out wide. The classy Canadian fly-half slotted the difficult conversion, and suddenly the Canadians looked to be on top.
However, Cayman were not done. Throwing everything at the Canadians, they took the game to them, variations in attack and some individual brilliance somehow saw the game’s intensity increase. The crowd were vocal, sensing a comeback as Cayman drove down the field, with only desperate cover defense keeping them at bay. Cayman continued to keep the ball in tight close to the line and they earned a scrum on the 5 yard line. The Canadian scrum knew what was coming, but were powerless to stop it – driven back more than 5 metres Cayman over scored again through Captain and Number 8 Brad Cowdroy.
Cayman were unable to convert yet again – 13 points had now gone missing, and with it a lead that should have been theirs. Less than 5 minutes to play, a 20-10 score line and it was anyone’s game. Cayman were desperate for the equalizing score – Canada equally as desperate to hold onto their slim lead. The match was still unbelievably intense – Canada had made close to 11 personnel changes in the half seeking to finish the match off, yet Cayman had refused to yield to their younger opponents.
It was not until there was less than a minute to go when Cayman were attacking strongly from their own 22 that Canada’s back three once again turned over the ball. With no options, they chipped a probing kick over the top, and an incredibly lucky bounce saw the ball fall away over the heads of three defenders into the arms of the lone Canadian support player who fell over the line for the try! Cayman were gutted, the kick was no good and the referee called the game over.
The final 25-10 score line did not reflect how close the match was, but Canada deserved the victory. They took their opportunities, and looked dangerous every time they had the ball in hand. Their back row were their best players, seemingly everywhere all game, closely followed by their fly-half, whose vision, and kicking, showed he had a big future in the game.
Cayman can hold their heads high, despite this being only their second game together as a team, the game was theirs for the taking. They learned that only a complete game was good enough for victory at this level of competition, and that will come with more experience. It is hoped such high quality opposition can be found more regularly to provide that experience – as they proved they more than have the skill to compete.