Africa is a long way to go to play rugby.
Yet that’s where some of Cayman’s best youngsters are heading next month.
The Cayman national Under-20 team will head to Kenya from April 17 until May 5 where they will compete for the 2009 International Rugby Board Junior World Rugby Trophy.
The competition will see some eight teams playing the 15-a-side version of the sport. The tournament, in its second year, is put on by the IRB for teams from developing rugby nations.
Technical director Richard ‘Grizz’ Adams is looking forward to the challenge.
‘We leave the island on 11 April and arrive in England on the 12th. We’ll stay in England to train until April 16 before heading off to Kenya thereafter.
‘We’ll be playing a full slate of international games. This is the first time Cayman has qualified to play against the top 24 teams in the world. It shows what can be accomplished with a small population and that we can compete on that level.’
Cayman will face a slew of formidable teams in Korea, Romania, Papua New Guinea, Namibia, Kenya, Chile and the USA.
The 2008 competition was held in Chile and won by Uruguay. Chile was second, Georgia third and Romania came fourth.
The matches also double as regional qualifiers for the 2010 International Rugby Board Junior World Championships.
That competition features the world’s top rugby nations and the 2009 version takes place in Japan this June.
Cayman have been getting lots of international exposure of late. Last weekend the side went to Bermuda for the Conyers Cup and was in Fort Lauderdale earlier in the month taking on formidable US squads.
As a result Adams feels the Cayman team should be able to hold its own.
‘The team heading to Kenya will see a lot of guys from the Bahamas tour (which took place earlier in the year) including Josh Clark, Robbie Cribb Jr and Michael Wilson. There will also be a couple of guys that have risen in the ranks over the last couple of months.
‘Most of the guys going on this trip have the experience of playing abroad and are fresh off the Fort Lauderdale and Bermuda competitions.
‘In terms of preparation they know what to expect and they should not be surprised with the level of speed, strength and fitness they will find in Kenya.’
With the Kenya trip marking new ground for Cayman rugby on a number of levels the expectations are understandably realistic.
As Adams says Cayman just need to be competitive for the trip to be a success.
‘Ideally I would love to win one game and not be beaten by 80-90 points. But to take a team to Kenya that can be compared to the top 24 sides in the world is a great compliment. It’s a big step for Cayman rugby and there’s potential to rise the ranks even more in time.’
As one can expect, travelling to such a distant continent as Africa is not cheap. The trip is slated to cost around US$7,000 per player – including airfare, accommodations, food and kit. With some 30 people travelling on the trip things can get pricey in a hurry.
However the team and the Cayman Rugby Football Union are blessed in that a number of companies have sponsored the trip.
Among them are British Airways, Heineken and Cayman Free Press.
Ultimately, with the trip being a historic reality, Adams is confident in the abilities of his team.
‘I’m optimistic, the management and players have worked really hard. People have stepped forward and there’s been good preparation.’
Cayman’s best youngsters are going to Kenya Photo: Eugene Bonthuys