Cayman Islands will host the very first match in the World Cup 2011 qualifiers.
Hosting the very first World Cup ruby qualifying match on April 20 is a huge coup for the island. Bill Beaumont, former England captain will bring the World Cup with him to heighten interest.
The world’s sporting media will be focused on these shores that day, enthuses Derek Haines, president of the Cayman Rugby Union. ‘This is absolutely fantastic,’ he said. ‘It’s a tremendous honour for the Cayman Islands and the rugby. It’s a rarity. This is only the seventh world cup ever and here we are having the cup brought out here by one of rugby’s greats, Bill Beaumont.
‘The last time I saw Bill play was in Paris in 1980 when England won the Grand Slam. He is an icon and it’ll be great to have him here. I just can’t wait. I’m so excited and hope we can put on a good show for everybody.’
Haines is meeting members of the ministry of education and sport this week to plan how to maximise the situation. It will be televised worldwide and there is a chance it might be changed to the Truman Bodden stadium which holds over 3,000. ‘If it is held here we will ensure that we do it in conjunction with the neighbours so that they feel fully comfortable too.’
Richard ‘Grizz’ Adams, technical director of CRU, is equally as pleased as Haines. He said: ‘This is great recognition of what’s happened here in the islands over the past eight years. I’m delighted that the Rugby International Union has chosen us as the opening venue.
‘We only found out on Tuesday. I guess someone at head office in Dublin decided that this was the right place to do it and we were notified. It’s a shame we didn’t have more notice but we’re delighted.
‘We’ve already had a response from the wider media. A couple of major rugby internet pages and a couple of other magazines have been in touch. We want to make this thing big.
‘We’ve got Trinidad in the first game and assuming we can beat them – they’re the only team in the Caribbean we haven’t beaten in recent times -we’ll face the winner of Barbados and Mexico. Barbados won through all the way to round two or three last time and only lost to the USA or Canada so we know they’re a good side.
‘They have a number of professionals who play in the UK and come back for these matches. And after that I guess it’s the winner of Jamaica and Guyana in the final. No easy games here, eight quality sides.
‘We hope to get a good crowd here. It’ll be very loud with a lot of support. The team’s quietly confident. They’re training hard.’
Cayman captain John Wagner is thrilled. ‘We’re very excited about it. The guys have been training hard and intensely for the past few weeks. Trinidad is a big challenge for us straight away. In the past Cayman has been a slow starting team, but not this year, we’re coming out blazing.’
Wagner, 35, is a tight head prop. An American footballer in his native Boston, he had never played rugby before coming to work here six years ago as an accountant with Admiral Administration.
‘I started playing touch rugby initially and was encouraged to give full contact rugby a shot and loved it. I love the community spirit of it and have even been coaching kids for the past couple of years. It’s a lot different to American football, far less protective gear. It was a tough transition but doable. Some of the hits are just as big but rugby has no protection and I think it is more technical in the tackling. Football is more about big collisions.’
One player training exceptionally hard is veteran campaigner Ron Arscott. He’s still chugging along at 59. ‘This is my fifth World Cup for Cayman. This might be my last one, I’m not sure yet,’ he joked. ‘This is going to be fantastic, especially with the World Cup here as well. There’ll be taking the cup around the schools to generate more interest. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great tournament.
Speedy winger Keswick Wright is a former sprinter now dedicated to making it as a pro. The 24-year-old Caymanican sees this tournament as an ideal opportunity to showcase his electric pace and skills.
‘I’m pumped up right now. The team and everyone’s getting ready for it. It’s given us an extra dimension in training. We’ve got to step up against Trinidad and Tobago and play at a serious international level. The coaching is good, the chemistry’s good and now we’ve just got to put it all together.’
Cayman began their World Cup preparations in earnest on Saturday with their first match of three against American college side Brown University from Rhode Island. A Cayman select will play Brown again tonight at the rugby club and the full Cayman national side face the Americans on Thursday. Both matches start at 5.15pm.