The Maples & Calder National Cayman Rugby Sevens Academy squad were in tough company in the Las Vegas invitational Sevens Elite division but acquitted themselves well.
The Las Vegas sevens forms part of the World sevens series, which involves all of the top 16 countries worldwide.
The series resembles the Formula 1 grand prix schedule in its championship, in that 16 countries compete in 11 separate tournaments worldwide for tournament points and the team with the most points at the end is the year’s winner.
The Las Vegas elite invitational tournament attracts many international and professional and semi-professional teams who are just below this level and working toward qualification to the full World Sevens Series.
The World Sevens Series recently gained status for qualification to the 2016 Olympic Games with the top four teams in the 2015 series automatically qualifying to Rio, so tournaments such as Las Vegas are high among the priorities of the Cayman Rugby Sevens.
It is also important that only players who hold a Cayman passport are eligible to participate in any Olympic competition, and as such, the development of passport holding Caymanians is essential for the longevity and growth of the sport in Cayman.
To this end, the Union invests more than 35 percent of its total revenue into the Greenlight RE Schools Development Program, where its full-time development officers spend more than nine months in most of Cayman’s private and government schools teaching and developing rugby programs.
Cayman was drawn with Canada Maples Leafs, Belgium and Zoo Ronin sports in their pool for day 1. The Maples Leafs are the full Canadian development squad, Belgium was the top team in Europe last year, and Zoo Ronin is a British invitational side comprised of professional and semi-professional players from Division 1 Rugby.
Cayman faced Zoo Ronin in their first game, which they tied 19-19, scoring at the death to snatch the draw, so it was a great start against the top-seeded side in the pool.
Cayman then faced the Maples Leafs, who had lost to Belgium in their first match of pool play. The Maples Leafs proved too much for Cayman despite some very spirited performances and long stretches where Cayman dominated possession.
Canada ran out winners 38-7 but Cayman did score a very well worked try in the encounter. Belgium was always going to be a huge task for the Cayman team, and having just beaten Zoo Ronin 24-7, Belgium was full of confidence.
Belgium had observed Cayman play in its first two matches and used their superior size and power to hold Cayman up in the tackle and force turnover scrum ball.
Cayman was unable to counter this in the first seven-minute half and Belgium scored 34 unanswered points.
In the second half, Cayman adapted much better to these tactics by getting lower and driving harder through contact, and while they finished the game without scoring, they did hold Belgium to just two more scores in the second half, with the final score 48-0.
This set up a Bowl quarter-final against Trinidad and Tobago, the current NACRA regional champions, and knocked Cayman out of the Commonwealth Games qualifiers at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex in November.
Cayman again struggled to get possession in the first half, and Trinidad took a 12-7 lead. Trinidad scored again immediately after the interval but then Cayman finally managed to get possession. Once they had the ball, Cayman racked up 22 unanswered points to beat the current NACRA champions 29-19 and move into the semifinal of the Bowl competition.
Cayman faced Zoo Ronin again in the semifinal and despite a great effort, ended up losing 26-19 in a heart-breaking game, which Cayman finished on top but simply ran out of time.
Technical director Richard “Grizz” Adams was satisfied with the two day performances. “There were a few Caribbean teams here and we finished higher than any of them, so that is a good sign,” he said.
“We have been a slow starting team, especially in day 1 of tournaments, as was witnessed in Cayman in November, and this has hamstrung us for years.
“I believe we may have finally found the correct preparation methods to overcome this as we came out faster on day 1 here in Vegas and played the best sevens we have played in quite a few years against superb opposition.”