Rugby in Cayman is flourishing.
The island has just hosted the men’s Caribbean championships, the women’s team is in Guyana this week for their championships and on Sunday the smallest players got their first taste of international competition.
Over the weekend the Cayman Islands hosted a rugby touring party from Bermuda. A party of 45 comprising 30 players in the Under-12 and Under-10 categories and their coaches and supporters arrived on Friday for an annual international challenge between the two islands.
The youth rugby players in Cayman have been training hard in recent months for the internationals and spectators at the South Sound Ground were treated to a great weekend of action as the teams played to the limit in a spectacular showcase end to the junior rugby season.
The action was divided into tour matches on Saturday followed by full international matches at each level on Sunday.
The Bermudans impressed everybody with their skills, sportsmanship and maturity. Their teams were well drilled and the children were excellent ambassadors for their island, handing out congratulations and handshakes regardless of the results.
After the games on Saturday a social event was held for the boys, coaches and parents from both islands on Seven Mile Beach and provided a nice break from the intense rivalry on the field.
The games were all keenly contested. At the U10 level the Bermudans’ greater experience of competitive team play proved conclusive and they won their tour matches on Saturday easily before beating a spirited Cayman team 40-0 in the international fixture on Sunday.
Cayman were beaten by a well drilled U10 Bermuda side with Cayman only putting their side together on the day; however it was clear that in their first test they have the athletic ability to compete and win.
Lee Lewis took man of the match for his all round contribution; Jack Sorrill, Alistair Forsythe and Ryan Barnett showed that Cayman have immense forward power to harness; Alex Robertson and Simon Butler made several incisive runs and the future for the U-10’s next season is safe with fantastic performances from Iain Robertson and Cameron Galloway from the bench.
At the U-12 level the Bermudans showed a lot of skill and game sense, but were facing a larger and highly committed Cayman team, which after a draw in the tour game, managed to restore Cayman pride with a narrow victory scoring a converted try with the last play of the game to win their international 28-26.
In the Saturday game Bermuda drew with South Sound Community Team (Cayman) 21-21.
Three tries each side with all conversions successful. Cayman tries were scored by Nick Daniel and Angel Hawkins got two. All the conversions were by the brilliant footballer Coilin Flynn.
Cayman looked to have a physically bigger side but were stunned by the ferocity of the Bermuda rucking and forward play and were on the back foot at the scrums and ruck area.
Cayman found themselves trailing 21-7 at the end of the first period and struggled at the breakdown area where Bermuda were dominant.
The possession count was heavily in favour of Bermuda and Cayman found themselves starved of possession for most of the period which was spent tackling the opposition.
Cayman started to settle down in the second period as the forwards began to gain some parity and Cayman started to steady the scrum and dominate the line-out.
Bermuda still outperformed Cayman at the breakdown but Cayman began to get parity of possession and began to establish a pattern which involved some powerful running in the back line which eventually led to their second score.
The third and final period was shortened to 15 minutes from 20 which saw some last gasp tackles and a disallowed Cayman try due to a high hand-off.
Cayman continued to grow in confidence and scored early in the third period to tie the scores at 21 points each. A draw was a fair result and there was nothing to choose between the two sides on the day.
In the Sunday U-12 game, each side scored four tries with one conversion missed by Bermuda. Tries scored by Daniel and Hawkins got three. All conversions were by Flynn again. The match was two halves of 25 minutes each.
Cayman spent an hour on pre-match training to concentrate on rucking and scrummaging to try and counteract the Bermuda dominance of the previous day.
This seemed to make an immediate difference with the front row of Cody Bush, Alex McGrath and Jordan Southway dominating their opposite numbers in the very first scrum resulting in turnover ball for Cayman.
Cayman also continued to dominate the line outs with Geoff Butler and Tanner Hatch securing a number of the Bermuda throws and Cayman started to gain control.
Cayman dominated possession and territory and quickly established a 14 – 0 lead with two tries from Hawkins. The back line of Conor Cockhill, Flynn, Daniel and Hawkins were outstanding in defence and kept Bermuda from crossing the gain line with some ferocious tackling.
Bermuda were forced to kick to gain field position and Cameron Bridgeman constantly looked dangerous on the counterattack with some elusive running.
Bermuda continued to look for good field position and spent the last five minutes on the Cayman try line and eventually powered over after some clever forward play and the score was 14-7 to Cayman at half time.
Bermuda spent the half time period in the changing room and there must have been some good coaching and motivational speaking as they came out fired up after the break.
Cayman struggled to establish their own pattern with the back-line being starved of possession.
With the Bermudans moving up quickly in defence there were few chances for the Cayman wings, Lloyd Griffin and Chase Green, to show their running skills, but both needed to cover well and did so, making important tackles as Bermuda came back strongly.
The visitors ran in a quick try within the first five minutes of the second period, but crucially missed the conversion, to put themselves back in the game.
However, against the run of play Cayman managed to break away and score with some good inter-passing and hard running from both forwards and backs to re-establish the lead at 21-12.
Bermuda never gave up and continued to get good field position and were very strong at the breakdown with some good turnover ball which allowed them quick possession.
Only some desperate last ditch tackling from Charlie Bush, Conor Cockhill and Hatch saved Cayman from conceding more points.
Eventually, the well drilled Bermuda pack scored despite some heroic tackling from the Cayman forwards, but Cayman retained a 21-19 lead.
The heat was a telling factor and both teams began to tire but the quality of rugby and commitment shown by both teams was incredible with very few first time tackles being missed by the Cayman boys who continued to be very physical despite the heat.
The Bermuda back line struggled to make any headway against a well drilled Cayman backline who were absolutely fantastic in defence so they reverted to their well drilled forwards and eventually scored with another close range effort with four minutes remaining.
This time the conversion was successful and Bermuda enjoyed the lead for the first time in the game and 26-21.
The last minutes of the game saw Cayman get a final burst of energy and Oleksander Martuik and Sawyer Clements carried the ball downfield and they were enjoying good field position.
Cayman hammered away at the Bermuda line but couldn’t make any headway as the Bermuda defence stood firm and the game looked to be slipping away from Cayman.
The ball was cleared by Bermuda and there was a Cayman line-out on the Bermuda 22m line and the referee informed the players that there was 25 seconds remaining and this was the last play of the game.
Hatch won the crucial line-out ball and the ball was spread to the centre where Hawkins made an amazing outside break to take on four or five defenders and score in the corner to tie the game at 26 each.
With just the conversion remaining the crowd were in a frenzy as Flynn stepped up to retain his 100 per cent kicking record to seal the match.