Cayman’s national rugby team kept their Caribbean Championships dreams alive last Saturday in a hard fought encounter against the Bahamas. The team rallied to recover from the disappointment of a four point loss against Bermuda the previous week, leading the game from start to finish. Playing in front of a very enthusiastic home crowd at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex, the team needed to win the match and score a bonus point in order to remain alive in the competition.
According to national team captain Ben McDonald, the team were very determined to perform in the game.
“We were determined to do well, our session on the Tuesday before the game in the pouring rain was one of the best we have had all season. We have really come together as a group and we talked about how we all wanted to support one another to get the result,” he said.
However, as the team only had a week to recover from a bruising encounter against Bermuda, the training sessions had to be modified to take that into account.
“We kept the sessions shorter and less physical to allow the guys time to recover from what was a very tough and physical match against Bermuda,” said Brad Cowdroy, coach of the national side.
Preparing for the game was also challenging as the team did not really know what to expect from the Bahamas.
“We have played them on several occasions before but not for a couple of years now. A lot can change in that time so we had to prepare for a number of different styles of play that they could bring to the game,” said Cowdroy.
According to McDonald, the team expected that the Bahamas would not take a step backwards and this was borne out early in the game as the Cayman side struggled to get into a flowing pattern of play due to the tough defensive play of the Bahamas. However, Cayman was first to get on the scoreboard with a successful penalty kick by Morgan Hayward giving the home side a 3-0 lead. However, this was to be the only scoring in the first half of the game and with the Cayman team needing to score four tries to secure the bonus point, they would need to step up their game to retain any hope of making it through to the next round.
“We thought we looked more settled and more structured than the Bahamas did, but yet we struggled for a long time to make that breakthrough and start scoring tries,” said Cowdroy.
During half time, Cowdroy asked the team to push even harder for the breakthrough they needed.
“We thought the guys looked a little flat in the 1st half. So we asked them to lift the intensity in the second half and ensure they didn’t come off the field at the end of the game with anything left in the tank,” said Cowdroy.
“They have done too much work to not give it everything they’ve got and play the positive style of rugby that we know they are capable of.”
This was echoed by McDonald, who said that the team spoke about the effort and intensity not being high enough.
The pep talk by the coach and captain seemed to have the desired effect as the team came into the second half looking reinvigorated and taking the game to the Bahamas.
Cayman exerted sustained pressure and it eventually paid off as a lock Yohann Regnard claimed good line-out ball for Cayman, which resulted in Ben Blair scoring a drive over try for Cayman. Hayward converted, taking the score to 10-0 in Cayman’s favour and seemed to open the floodgates.
Centre Venasio Tokotokovanua capped off a good phase of play with a brilliant solo break, running into so much space that he had time to celebrate well before finishing off with a flourish as he soared through the air to score a diving try between the posts, which was duly converted by Hayward to give Cayman a 17-0 lead.
Robbie Cribb came on during the second half as replacement scrum half and had an immediate impact on the game, scoring Cayman’s third try after a strong tackle by Shaun Gerard close to the Bahamas line allowed Cribb to scoop up the ball and dive across the line to take the score line to 22-0.
Cribb paid the try line a second visit shortly thereafter, diving over in the far corner after a very good run by the Cayman backs allowed him to get into space, taking the score to 27-0.
With the bonus point finally secured, Cayman could relax a little, but the Bahamas were not quite done with the game yet, as Devon Woodside gave an impressive display of strength and athleticism to score a try for the Bahamas. In spite of a number of Cayman’s players attempting to drive him back and succeeding in turning him around, Woodside managed to reach over his head and dot the ball down behind his back for a very impressive score. The try was converted, but it was too little too late for the Bahamas as the final whistle sounded, giving Cayman the win 27-7.
For the Cayman side, having the home crowd support made a big difference out on the pitch.
“The Cayman crowd for both our home games has been amazing. All the players are really proud that they get the opportunity and privilege to represent the Islands, when the community comes out in great numbers and cheers so loudly, you know you are their team and just feel like you can’t let them down. I think that gives the players a real lift on game day, particularly when they need a boost to make a tackle or run to a ruck,” said McDonald.
However, in spite of all the highlights on the pitch, for McDonald the best moment of the game took place off the pitch.
“The cheering each time a player left the pitch was great but I would have to say there was one real highlight of the day for me, I was speaking to one of the supporters after the game and they introduced their son to me and told me how much he wanted to play for Cayman, he then gave me a hug for winning, that was pretty special.”
Cayman now has to wait for the result of the match between the Bahamas and Bermuda to see whether they will progress to the next round.