For the third time in four years the Cayman Islands Under-19 men’s team were crowned North America Caribbean Rugby Association Caribbean Champions on Saturday night in front of a capacity crowd at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex.
The young Caymanians, guided by coaches Russell Hayward, Noel Phillips, Gary Southway and team manager Graeme Thompson surprised the competition having come back against Barbados to seal a convincing win earlier in the week to then narrowly defeat Bermuda and lastly triumph over a very powerful Trinidadian side in what is being touted by many as the most exciting conclusion of the competition ever.
In the 2010 competition the same Caymanian team had heavy losses to the Bahamas and Bermuda in the Bahamas only to bounce back in the fifth place bowl final against Barbados. The turn around in fortunes in only 12 months is testament to the hard work of the players and coaching staff of the Cayman Rugby Football Union.
Earlier in the day, Barbados subjected the Jamaicans to their third successive defeat of the week to take fifth place and were followed by a clash of 2010 Caribbean Champions, Bermuda against Mexico. The Mexicans fought hard to overcome the Bermudans but found little reprieve from the dogged defence and Bermuda won third place in the competition with a 12-8 victory.
The Trinidadians, last year’s finalists, were favoured by many to beat Cayman due to their size, speed and age and indeed scored early on in the final to make the score 5-0.
The score line didn’t change again in the first half albeit for a few scoring opportunities for the Caymanian boys that went begging.
In the second half Cayman slotted a penalty kick through Alex Harvey to cut the Trinidadian lead to two points but the Trinis responded quickly with a penalty of their own to make the score 8-3. With the clock winding down it looked ever more like Cayman’s hopes would be dashed and Trinidad would take home both the women’s and U19 men’s trophies but a last minute try from Tom Mann sent the crowd into a frenzy to make the score 8-8.
A conversion from the corner for the last play of regulation time would have sealed the game but Harvey sent the ball wide and the game would be decided on a penalty shoot out.
Cayman only missed one penalty kick to win the game 4-2 on penalties to be crowned Caribbean champs on home soil. Fittingly, Harvey kicked the last penalty.
With such a young team and highly qualified coaching staff Cayman are well placed to continue their dominance at this level for a few more years to come.