Big year ahead for U/20 rugby

Preparation is in full swing for the Cayman National Under-20 squad as they look forward to April 21, the day they will face the United States in the opening game of the International Rugby Board Junior World Trophy.

Alongside Cayman and the USA will be Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Korea, Namibia and Romania as the eight teams compete to win the last coveted place for the 2010 IRB U21 Rugby World Cup.

The squad is now training four evenings a week as well as three morning gym sessions and playing on Saturday afternoons in the BrightStaff Alex Alexander 2009 Rugby Premiership.

Two evenings are at the South Sound Rugby pitch and two evenings are at the Cayman International School’s fantastic floodlit facility and while the pitch comes with a cost coach Richard ‘Grizz’ Adams is immensely grateful to thank Dart for their sponsorship for field use and the need of a floodlit facility.

‘The CIS facility is first rate and as we do not have lights at South Sound the lights here allow us the kind of time and preparation that we need, basically it means we can now train until 7:30,’ Adams said.

‘Dart have been fantastic to us, highly reducing their rate for the field use and in times when so much financial support is needed for one program we fully appreciate every penny that comes our way.’

The squad is further bolstered by a great rate from King’s gym where they prepare in the excellent facility three mornings a week. Cayman Rugby Membership banded together and donated the players’ gym membership fees.

Adams added: ‘The reaction of so many people on the island has been huge, it is overwhelming to think that so many people and organizations are donating to these young Caymanian men that have already achieved so much just by getting this far, it is exactly the sort or recognition they deserve as they now face a mountain of a challenge and one that few people will ever face.’

Next month Adams will take his squad to the Fort Lauderdale Ruggerfest for a camp and three warm up matches. This is not just some random tour. The USA U-20 are using the same tournament as a warm for their preparations for the April match and Adams wants to be right on their coat tails.

‘Salty Thompson, the USA coach, has his hands full as he played a mass of 20 year olds last year in an all out effort to keep the USA in the top 16 teams in the World and the U-20 Rugby World Cup.

‘He was close but in the end lost by a couple of points and ended up last and relegated to the Junior World Trophy. This means that he now has to face a serious question with his selections for 2009.

‘On one hand if he wins the JWT he will have to take the squad to the 2010 Rugby World Cup and will need to pick a mix of players for the JWT that will still be around in 2010.

‘I’m sure that he will want to pick a team to win the JWT this year and the expectation will be on him and his squad.

‘If however he picks an older team to make sure he wins and then fails he will be faced with the U19 qualifiers here in Cayman in July and a squad that will be too old to compete.

‘It is tough for Salty and with no national programme in the USA under the age of 19 he could find himself in a very difficult situation. We on the other hand do not have the same concerns. Only five of our U20 squad will be too old to play in the U19 champs in July should we not win the JWT.

‘We also have six players who helped us qualify in Barbados who are too young to playing the U-20 JWT who will be old enough to play for us in July.

‘If we do not win the JWT then the four games will put this squad in excellent shape for the July U-19 qualifiers and a chance to go back to the JWT in 2010 with a team a year older and that much more experienced.

‘Salty has chosen the Fort Lauderdale Ruggerfest as his main warm up because the other five teams are all USA Super League sides from which the NA4 players are selected and from there the full USA Eagles team.

‘The standard will be exceptional and I want to see how we fare as well as how they fare. From there it will come down to who can best use the last six weeks preparation.

‘After the domestic Premiership and Fort Lauderdale our last ace card will be to travel to the UK on April 11.

‘We will play a warm up match against one of the premiership U-19 Academy teams the day after we land. Currently talks are in progress with the Harlequins, Leicester and Loughborough University.

‘The team will then spend the last two days receiving some coaching from highly respected coaches before travelling to Kenya on the 17th.’

Adams feels this stop in the UK is vital. ‘While the extra days will further stretch our very meagre budget it is vital for a number of reasons.

‘Medically there will be a six hour time difference between Cayman and England. It takes one day to recover the effect of every hour of jet lag. This means that by the time we leave the UK we will be back on an even keel.

‘The game will give us an opportunity to highlight our players to the UK premier clubs and some of our players who have UK passports may be invited for further games and positions in the UK.

‘The game will give me a chance to make any last minute calls or changes to the team, it will give us a great opportunity to run out the effects of the long haul overnight flight as well.

‘Lastly, the coaching sessions give the lads a chance to be exposed to some of the top coaching in the world which is of course invaluable, it will also give me a chance to chat with the opposition coaches post game and get their feel on what we do well and what we can do better and what we might want to avoid.

‘We will then fly to Kenya which is only three hours difference and we gain on that. We have three days before our first game so we should be biting at the bit by the 21st and game against the Americans.’

Cayman also has Namibia and Kenya in their pool along with the USA so this is going to an extremely difficult tournament for a country that has produced maybe 30 players at this age to pick from, but the CRFU and their game sponsors are doing everything in their power to get this team ready for competition with the top 23 countries in the world. The programme is still in desperate need of finances so any individual or company interested in sponsorship should contact Richard Adams at the CRFU for more information. Email: [email protected].