The pitch was totally waterlogged, the clubhouse damaged and the whole area was one of total devastation. Rugby people were abandoning the Islands in droves and it looked like the end for the emerging enthusiasts left here.
Many doubted that club president Derek Haines and technical director Richard ‘Grizz’ Adams could rebuild it, yet today it is one of the fastest growing and over-achieving sports which no one could have predicted. Even Haines and Adams must be pleasantly surprised at the rapidity of its evolution.
Rugby here is now a major sport and for a tiny country of 55,000 it is punching way above its weight. That was emphasised last week when the Under-19 boys came from behind in all three matches to win the North America Caribbean Rugby Association Championships for the third time in four years and the women’s team battled to the finals although they lost heavily.
The Trini women, who are No.2 in the Caribbean behind Guyana, won 48-0 but that should not detract from the hard work Cayman put in for months before and the tremendous spirit they showed throughout the match. Right up to the final whistle they battled on.
Both Trinidad and Tobago sides were formidable, in fact. The boys triumphed in spectacular fashion. The visitors took the lead from a try early in the game at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex and fears were that Cayman, whose average age of 16 was two years younger than the opposition, would get overwhelmed.
But Cayman had not capitulated against Barbados when they overhauled a deficit to win handsomely 26-17 and then they overcame champions Bermuda 11-10 in a nail-biter.
Alex Harvey was a revelation for Cayman in the final. His penalty closed the gap but Trinidad added a penalty kick to make it 8-3. Then Cayman’s terrific spirit shone through again. Their superior technical ability and organisation – plus the boost from a vocal local crowd willing them to succeed – all contributed to Tom Mann scoring a try late on to level at 8-8.
No extra time was played, instead best-of-five penalties. Trinidad and Tobago missed two early on and although Cayman missed their first they scored from the next three which meant that Alex Harvey had to score to ensure victory.
As if slow motion to play out the dramatic finale in a movie, the ball seemed to take an age to get there. It was slightly wide of the right post but curved at the end, hitting the upright – and thankfully for the locals – it bounced inside, sparking mass jubilation. Captain Morgan Hayward received the winners’ trophy from minister of sport Mark Scotland and there was immense satisfaction in the Hayward household as dad Russell is the head coach and brother William, 15, is the youngest member of the squad.
Scotland said: “This is a great milestone. It just goes to show the merits of this excellent youth rugby programme. That’s three times in the past four years they’ve won it and many in the team are still eligible for the next two or three years so it bodes well for the continuation of the rugby programme.
“I have to say that just watching the spirit of the youngsters tonight impressed me. They showed immense composure and maturity in taking the penalty kicks.”
Morgan Hayward is 18 but still qualifies to play another year. He said: “We did it the hard way. In the end it’s all that matters. We have to give credit to the Trinidadians. They played a great game and were in the lead the whole time but it shows great character for us to come back in the dying minutes there. Horrible way for anyone to lose but we’re happy.”
Russell Hayward said: “Yes, they showed a lot of character. We’ve always said they’re a young team but we look forward now to them building on this over the next couple of years. We’re losing a couple of good ones in Harrison Foster who has been a pillar of strength and Alex Harvey who was tremendous in midfield and kicking.
“We need to play another 12 games at least and then we’ll come back much stronger next year. We trained for a long time. We’ve been targeting this for three and a half months. This was our ninth game. Not a lot of games but it was our ninth win in a row, so it was a gradual development.
“They’ve been playing some senior rugby and also some American and Canadian guys and part of it was getting used to the physical challenge and it paid off.
“I want to thank all the sponsors of the tournament, especially the government and Maples who always sponsor us every year. DART too and also some others who sponsored this team for the two matches in Toronto. They were very generous. Not so much sponsors but benefactors and donations.”