Rugby champs must step up a level

The triumphant Cayman Under-19s have done all their partying and must go back to work now.

They were given a thank you reception at the rugby club in South Sound last Thursday in honour of winning the Caribbean Championships three weeks ago and getting to the last 24 of the World Cup qualifiers.

The next round is in April, probably in the Cook Islands and Cayman have to get their heads down again to prepare for what will be the toughest set of matches they’ve ever experienced.

Governor Stuart Jack was there to present Edward Westin, a very unusual award for being Young Player of the Year. It was an ornamental doll which is usual stuck on a shelf behind the bar. The real trophy wasn’t ready and Cayman Islands Rugby Union president Derek Haines amused the crowd with the quirky substitute.

To his credit, Westin accepted in good spirits. He’s a flanker, just turned 18 and anxious to get back in serious training.

Westin’s been playing rugby since his family moved here from Canada seven years ago. He got into rugby through a friend in church and kept with it.

Born in Halifax, the family left Nova Scotia to be closer to his grandparents who are Caymanian.

‘It’s been a pretty crazy time,’ Westin said. He plays a little football and baseball but now rugby’s heavy schedule will take up all energies.

Westin is quite a tournament veteran already. This was his third one. Guyana two years ago was his first, then Cayman last year.

‘I’ve been waiting for this for a long time so I’m pretty happy,’ he said of his ‘trophy’.

‘The trophy was pretty funny but I guess the other one is off somewhere. The next stages will be tougher but it’s going to be fun.’

Richard ‘Grizz’ Adams, technical director, masterminded the tournament win in Barbados. He is still coming to terms with the enormity of that achievement.

‘We’re a small nation trying to compete with a lot of big nations,’ he said. ‘They’ve got the pick of the crop but we’ve got to take 25 or 30 boys and try to build them up into physical figures that can compete at that level.

‘We’ve got to give them the basic core training that will allow them to compete at that level in terms of strategy and technique. That’s a big ask in eight months but I think that these young men have made a commitment to see how it goes over the next four or five months.

‘Hopefully, we’ll get to play the US in December. That should be a big test for us because they should be our toughest competition.

‘We played them two years ago and lost 38-3. It was a big margin but not ridiculous. There are only two guys from that Cayman team that are too old to play them this year so 13 of these players played against them.

‘We need to do well against them in December and if we can do that we’ll know where we’re going on to.

‘At this level, Under-20, it’s about fitness, size, power, basic skills and then it comes down to coaching, how you play the game.

‘That’s how we got through the championships this year. We now know what we’ve got and what skills we have to put a game plan together.

‘Next year, going forward, we’re not going to get away with the same game plan.’

One proud mother in attendance was government minister Angela Martins. She said: ‘I’m delighted on several levels to be here tonight. Most of all as the mother of Brian Martins and to see his accomplishments on the field.

‘More than that, he is a part of a team that has given Cayman its first international team recognition at a very high level. These guys have done tremendously well.

‘In my capacity as permanent secretary for sport I’m just thrilled that we could support the junior development programme of the rugby union.

‘It is really fundamental to making citizens, not just sportsmen. And when we look at these young men, my heart was full the Sunday they came back because they were not even sure themselves the import of what they had done.

‘It is for us as a community to really reach out and say to them as young people that hard work, dedication, commitment and excellence is what you’ve achieved and for that we must be really proud.’

Rugby is a tough contact sport, didn’t hope that Brian would choose something less exacting?

‘It was never my view of what I wanted. I have three children and for all of them it’s where their heart is, where their passion is. Brian was always doing dangerous things as a boy, climbing trees he shouldn’t have, so rugby seems to me very natural to him.

‘Brian came into rugby and we really must give thanks to Mr Stephen Clark, his teacher at George Hicks who interested Brian in rugby four or five years ago and he has just taken to it with a passion.

‘He’s looking to university now in September 2009 and his one criterion is that the school must have varsity rugby. That’s a requirement.

‘Every sport is dangerous, whether it’s cycling or football, rugby or swimming for that matter. But this is what excites him and is his passion.

‘As a parent I think one should support him in being the best he can be but also recognise the ways he can be careful and protect himself.

‘I don’t mean to be disrespectful but I don’t think the Caymanian community really comprehends what these young men have done for us.

‘We are No.16 in the world today because of the incredible effort of these young men in winning the tournament.

‘We look forward to being present in the Cook Islands next year where I think they will still make us very proud.

‘We’ve got the first team that I’m aware of that has gone and taken the regional championships by what appears to be almost effortlessly.

‘So it’s a good thing. Not just for rugby but as a marker for people in sport. Nothing comes easy.

‘I’m aware that the week before they went away they worked every day from nine to four here at rugby club. Coach Grizz was like an autocrat, pushing them, pushing them. But look where we are today!’

She added: ‘It would remiss of me not to recognise the outstanding contribution of coach Grizz.

‘He likes to sit at the back and give credit to the boys. They absolutely adore him. They love him.

‘He inspires them and puts an emphasis on motivation but he does so relentlessly with an expectation of excellence.

‘At the end of the day, what kind of better citizens can emerge from that kind of perspective? We’re just really grateful that the rugby club can have someone like coach Grizz. But importantly, they’ve learnt that nothing comes easy and when you win like they did, it’s a high for ever. And Cook Islands, here I come.

‘I’m pretty excited because there’s been some dialogue with the rugby folks for Brian to come back from Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia in October to play in the senior team sevens in the World Cup qualifiers. This mum will be there, yelling, very loud.’

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