Cayman Islands may not be famous for its rugby union pedigree but it has such a hotbed of enthusiast followers of the quintessential British sport that it has pulled off a sporting coup that beggars belief.
It is hosting the Caribbean region’s World Under-19s qualifiers for next year’s Under-20s tournament.
How cool is that for a population of only 50,000?
There is a six-nation tournament running this week that started on Saturday at the South Sound Ground in George Town and judging by the quality of play the winners of this will have a great chance of getting to the finals.
Barbados played Trinidad and Tobago in the opener and a competitive match ended in a narrow 9-5 win for the Bajans courtesy of three superb penalties taken by fly half Benjamin Pettit. One of them was a 60-yard effort from the depths of his own half.
‘Our play was stronger and more disciplined,’ said Barbados captain Dwight Forde, a hooker. ‘The Trinis scored a try from a free-kick but we were by far the better team.’
Barbados play Guyana tonight (Monday) and Jamaica face Mexico afterwards at the South Sound Ground.
In Saturday’s main game, hundreds turned out to see Cayman Islands take on Mexico.
Well schooled by coaches who have experienced rugby at top level in England, Cayman were expected to brush aside the Mexicans who are better known for their football and boxing ability.
But the locals did not have it their own way in the first half. A war of attrition ensued from the off with some vicious tackling coming from both sides. Tempers frayed and there was one fracas but the testosterone was firmly kept in check by a firm referee.
Cayman’s Robbie Cribb broke the deadlock with a 40-yard penalty which inspired the Mexicans to up their game. Brian Martins made a crucial try-saving tackle before Cribb eased the pressure with another penalty.
Stocky prop Daniel McGrath made the result safe with a try from close range just before half-time after sustained Cayman pressure.
Cayman coach Stephen Clark gave his charges a stern talking too during the break despite the 11-0 lead. He said they were lucky not to be sin binned for some dubious tackling and their general play needed to be tighter and more aggressive.
Spurred on by Clark’s pep talk, Cayman came out looking more purposeful.
Cribb’s efficient right foot put them 14-0 ahead with another penalty before they scored a try from a scrimmage.
Cribb got the conversion to make his personal tally 11 points and put them 23-0 up.
Mexico kicked a penalty near the end but by then the result was well beyond doubt.
So a nice little 21-3 confidence boosting victory for Cayman. But coach Clark warned them things will be a lot tougher on Wednesday against the far more physical Jamaicans.
‘The Jamaicans will be far, far fitter,’ he said. ‘We’ll have to work on our scrimmages and line-outs in the meantime and also our communication needs to improve.
‘I felt that some people were just focussed on themselves and were playing to their own agenda. That’s got to change.’
Derek Haines is the president of the Cayman Islands Rugby Football Union and the main reason why the tournament is being played here. Leicester-born, his passion for the sport remains undiminished despite the many years away from England.
He said: ‘I’m very proud to be hosting this tournament. It’s a big salute to how rugby on Grand Cayman has developed. Considering the population of Mexico compared to us and the fact that most of ours boys have been playing for less than 12 months, I am absolutely delighted. We also had a great crowd today which helped and I want to thank all the officials, medics and people who helped make this tournament possible, most giving them time and skills for free.
‘The Jamaicans will be tougher but if we show the sort of character, skill and commitment that we did today, hopefully we will win.’