Cayman’s Under-19s rugby side retained their crown as Caribbean champions after finally beating their nemesis Jamaica.
The match at the rugby club on Wednesday was a tense one for the hundreds of mostly Cayman supporters there because the home side cruised to a half-time lead of 22-0 but had to cling on after the break as Jamaica finished strongly.
Cayman had lost twice before to Jamaica in these championships and when Michael Wilson and fly-half Joel Clarke scored tries early on it settled their nerves.
Robbie Cribb was in fine kicking form and a conversion and penalty made the score 15-0. Matthew Hale seized on a Jamaican error near the break and Cribb converted again to give Cayman what looked like an unassailable lead. Hale played throughout despite vomiting a couple of times in the match. He really showed a soldier’s spirit.
But as soon as the second half started, Jamaica scored twice in succession through Andrew Simpson and Fabian Turner with Ryan Grant scoring a conversion to make it 22-12.
Andre O’Conor got another try for the determined Jamaicans to make it 22-17.
Cribb coolly hit a penalty to ease Cayman nerves but near the end Rodney Denvil got another try to bring the game to 25-22. Cribb dampened Jamaican spirits with another penalty to ensure a famous victory, 28-22.
Cayman play Mexico tomorrow at 5pm in the regional final. The Mexicans lost to Cayman last year in the final 22-3 and the previous year by the same margin so desperately wanted the Jamaicans to win.
They even started singing Bob Marley’s One Love to inspire them!
A very relieved Cayman coach Stephen Clarke (Joel’s dad) said: ‘I’ve got the utmost respect for the Jamaicans after being 22-0 down at half-time. It says a lot for their players. The coaches must be very proud of their performance.
‘Our players turned it around, I’m very proud of them. They played some very good rugby in the first half.
‘Second half we lost a bit of focus and continuity but the first half was excellent.
‘Robbie Cribb is a great goal kicker and tackler, he distributed well and he kicked well at crucial times under pressure.
‘We’ve got Mexico in the final. They’re a talented team. They’ve improved dramatically over the last two years. They’ve got a big set of forwards and it’s going to be tough but we’re looking forward to it.’
Derek Haines is president of the Cayman Islands Rugby Federation. He said: ‘Winning 22-0 at half-time, we sat back and tried to save ourselves for the final.
‘The Jamaicans have edged us in a couple of previous games and didn’t like the idea of losing and came back strongly. In the end our boys were full of discipline and took the kicks when they wanted to.
‘There were a couple of moments towards the end when the Jamaicans got penalties and could have kicked but tried to run it, but we held firm.
‘It was an exciting game and good for Cayman. It’s going to be a repeat of last year’s final and excitement all the way.
‘We know each other very well and know which players we’re going to mark very tightly and they know who they’re going to mark.
‘I would very much encourage anyone interested who wants to see young rugby at its best to come down.’
The afternoon’s play starts at 3pm with Jamaica against Trinidad & Tobago for the third place play-offs.