GRAND CAYMAN hosted the biggest rugby tournament of its kind in the Caribbean last week and it was an unprecedented success, despite the host nation’s disappointment.
The International Rugby Board ran the Caribbean leg of the Under-19 competition with six teams vying for the one place into the next round of the World Cup which culminates next year in Nigeria or France with the Under-20s finals.
Jamaica scraped through in the final against classy Guyana, Cayman Islands were third, thrashing the game Bajans and Trinidad and Tobago beat the plucky youngsters of Mexico whose average age was only 16. All the matches were played over eight days at the South Sound. Spectators were blessed with glorious sunshine throughout but it was torture for players and officials alike who needed regular water breaks.
In the final, consensus was that Guyana would be technically too good for the Jamaicans. Could the fast and skilful Guyanese thwart the equally rapid but less fluid Jamaicans who had surprisingly lost to Mexico earlier?
Jamaica showed their potential from the off with a great run by Ken Walker, one of the finest players at the tournament who was well tackled by Lloyd Prowell. Guyana captain Satesh Samaroo also displayed tremendous ability with a kick and run move. Not surprisingly, neither side settled early with a lot of dropped catches and knock-ons but Guyana had the edge.
Against the run of play Jamaica’s Clifford Clarke burst through for their try. It came out of the blue as Guyana had enjoyed most possession. Hubert Thomas converted.
Much of the play was in the Jamaican half until they showed their ability to counter-attack swiftly and almost scored again but for desperate tackling. Walker set off on a typical lightning run until he came up against Samaroo who hurt himself in tackling the elusive Jamaican.
Then Samaroo missed a penalty. The Jamaican backs got into a rhythm, starting to run Guyana ragged. Andrew Hylton almost scored but once against was denied by tough Guyana resistance. With so much at stake it wasn’t turning out to be the spectacle everyone expected but at least play flowed.
Guyana’s Dane Parks powered through and almost made it to the line. Jamaica kept their composure as the pressure increased, soaking it up before winning a penalty. A fluid Jamaican move from the penalty involving half the team ended in full back Sebastian Stewart scoring. They went 14-0 up when Thomas converted.
That spurred Guyana on and sure enough a few minutes later Robin Cordis set Prowell up to power through, diving over two Jamaicans for his try. Samaroo converted. That set the game up for an exciting finish.
Cordis was denied a try for not grounding then Panaal Keyler did the same thing. Keyler’s looked good but American referee Aruna Panaweera said no. Up till then Panaweera was having an excellent game. It didn’t matter because a minute later Cordis fed Keyler and this time the rugged Jamaicans couldn’t stop him.
The ground hushed as Samaroo took the conversion. He didn’t disappoint to level the scores on 14 each. Psychologically Guyana were buzzing, Jamaica deflated after conceding a big lead. A draw was a fitting end to a fabulous match as there was so little between them.
Now it would go to five kicks each because both sides had scored the same number of tries and goals.
Jamaica kicked their first goal from the 22-yard line, so did Guyana. Jamaica kicked their second but Guyana missed theirs. Jamaica kicked their third and Guyana missed theirs again. It was 3-1 when Storm Pink stepped up to take Jamaica’s fourth to put them through. Well he certainly created a storm with a perfectly placed kick that sailed between the posts which sparked Jamaican jubilation.
Supporters invaded the pitch as if they had actually won the World Cup. Players danced with flags wrapped around them then did a lap of honour.
Jacob Thompson, chairman of the Jamaica Rugby Union, said: ‘This is my life’s dream. My coaches and I have built this up single-handedly without any major support from the government. Rugby was always played by ex-pats in Jamaica. I learnt the game from playing in England when I was in the army and when I went home I went into the inner-city and introduced boys there to the game. All my efforts have come to fruition and now I hope that the private sector and government will support us in the future.’
Determined to make amends for three days earlier when they were outplayed by Jamaica, from the off Cayman surged up field and kept Barbados pinned to their line but could not find the vital opening. Bajan fly half Ben Pettit eased the pressure with a marvellous weaving run before Cayman came right back. Kevin Carter made a breakaway for Barbados to take the ball into the Cayman half on a rare occasion.
Cayman’s Robbie Cribb hit a massive penalty which went awry before Pettit tried a huge penalty soon after but that too went wide.
Barbados looked set to score when they attacked near the posts but admirable defending by Cayman ensured against that. Cayman’s Justin Vasquez is a powerfully built centre who used his physique to help push his side out of the danger area.
After the break Cayman were winning possession most from the scrums but not capitalising. A superb run by Vasquez saw him tackled just before the line. From the penalty the ball was worked to the stocky Daniel McGrath who bulldozed over for a deserved try.
Barbados defended stoically, Pettit’s kicking often saving them. Cribb must have left his magic boots at home because his penalty kicking was poor today. A mistake by Pettit in gathering the ball almost resulted in a Cayman try. They maintained pressure to score from close range through Cribb. He hit a lengthy conversion attempt but once again missed. Cribb’s next penalty attempt was successful though to put Cayman 13-0 up. Barbados got a try at the death through Josh Clarke and Pettit converted.
Cayman sealed an emphatic victory when McGrath bundled over for his second score to finish 18-7.
Opening game between Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago was a keenly fought affair. The young Mexicans had shown enormous heart and application in causing the shock of the tournament against Jamaica, winning 3-0. Mexico had regrouped admirably after losing their first match heavily to Cayman Islands. Against Trinidad they started well but the Trinis were determined not to suffer the ignominy of sixth place and used their superior physical advantage to win set plays and make incisive runs. Trinidad fly half Justin McClean sprayed the ball around like a veteran. No score at half time but the overwhelming feeling was that the Trinis would take control in the second session.
Yet the first score went to Mexico, a penalty by scrum half Alesandro Chavez. That motivated their opponents who from the kick off surged forward and were only denied by some resilient Mexico tackling.
The inevitable Trinidad score came from a series of rucks, Justin Pascal almost reaching the line. Kirby Hosang, the big No.8, picked up and bullied himself over to put them 5-3 up. Mexico restored their lead soon after with another Chavez penalty.
With two minutes to go, Trinidad’s pressure finally told. They charged down two Mexican kicks and from the resulting loose ball passed along the line for Derondie Jones-Handle to score in the corner. McGlean kicked the conversion for a deserved 12-6 victory.
A great start to the day’s final games, played at a fantastic pace considering the sweltering temperatures which must have been touching 100 degrees.
President of Cayman Rugby Football Union is Derek Haines. He said: ‘This was a well run and exciting tournament with a high standard of rugby. The final was fantastic and I thank everyone who helped make it all possible. I’m proud of Cayman today and our coach Stephen Clarke for victory after Wednesday’s setback. Third place in the whole of the Caribbean is something to be very proud of considering the size of Cayman.’