The rugby programme in the Cayman Islands has come on leaps and bounds in recent years since it was introduced into schools and through that introduction the national Under-19 team is excelling in virtually every tournament it enters.
The DART U-19 squad flew to Trinidad and Tobago last Monday with their coaches, Garry Southway and Noel Phillips.
They spent the week preparing to defend their U-19 regional championship they won in Mexico last year.
Outstanding players in the U-19 programme include Will Hayward and Iain Currie and players who have graduated into the senior set up include Will’s brother Morgan, Michael Wilson, Robbie Cribb, Alex Harvey, Garrett Connolly and the Clark brothers, Joel and Josh.
Many of the players also represented Cayman two years, which was won here, following their peers who also won the championship in 2008 and 2009.
In recognition of that amazing feat of four championships in five years, the North American and West Indies Rugby Association permanently awarded the trophy to Cayman and will start a new trophy at this week’s tournament.
Besides Cayman, the participating countries are Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Guyana, Jamaica, Mexico, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The programme is a true testament to the vision and foresight of the Greenlight RE schools programme and the Maples and Calder community youth programmes which have run for several years.
Cayman face Jamaica on Monday and then Bermuda on Wednesday. Final results will determine if they make the final on Saturday.
Strong opposition is expected from all teams this year, as the region recognises the importance of their U-19 programmes to feed their senior sides over the next few years.
Director of Rugby, Richard “Grizz” Adams, expects the team to do well again.
“The guys have not been together much this year, as seven of them are attending school overseas, which makes practising as a team very tough,” Adams said. “However, many of the guys that are away are playing at an extremely high level and will bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience.”
He added, “The coaches have done a great job with those players in Cayman from the Maples youth academy, and they had some great results against the touring sides that have come to Cayman to play this year.
“It is the oldest team we have ever had in terms of age, with the vast majority of players either 18 or 19 years old, and only a couple still under 18, so that will definitely be of benefit in terms of physicality.
“Our guys here also play in the senior leagues and one or two are in the full national senior 15s and sevens squads, so they will not be intimidated by the opposition, which will also help.
“I think as long as they listen to their coaches, who are both very good, and stick with what they do well, they will definitely be in with a better-than-average chance of bringing home a fifth championship and the new trophy.
“I will be there delivering a couple of conferences on ‘Building Small Unions’ and ‘How to Develop An Ideal Union in a Small Island Setting’ on behalf of NACRA and the International Rugby Board, which will give me a chance to see most of the practices and all of their games.”
Adams is currently scouting on behalf of the new High Performance Sevens and 15s programmes, now firmly established within Cayman and expects to be able to identify at least 10 potential players to make that step up immediately upon the U-19 team’s return to the Cayman Islands.
With the NACRA Sevens being hosted in Cayman from 9-10 November, he feels that some will have a real chance of playing in that tournament as well.