Women’s seven-a-side rugby takes centre stage with Cayman playing the Mexico national side and club teams from Scotland and Texas on Friday.
The Halloween Women’s Invitational 7s is at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex and Cayman play Mexico in the first match, kick off 2.10 p.m. Watching that game will be Scotland’s Rugby Ecosse Feminin and the Dallas Harlequins. There is also a Cayman Select side involved.
This is great competition for the Cayman national team, serving as a warm up for tougher tournaments approaching.
There is the Central American and Caribbean Games in Veracruz, Mexico next month, followed by the North America Caribbean Rugby Association 7s championships in Mexico City.
Next year starts off with a trip to the Las Vegas International Invitational, one of the toughest competitions outside of the World Series. It will kick off preparations for the ultimate goal, the Olympic qualifiers in the US in June.
Newly appointed Cayman national captain Cassianne Lawrence is looking forward to the busy schedule.
A newcomer to the sport, from basketball and flag football, she is thrilled at being appointed skipper. “This has to be one of the greatest opportunities I have ever had in my life, to captain my country’s national women’s rugby squad is an amazing opportunity,” Lawrence said.
“The players are like family and to explain the love I have for them is not possible. It was unexpected but I am truly honored these women are fantastic.”
Lawrence can rely on the brilliance of players like Shenel Gall, Biannca Johnson, Marline Williams, Jenna Richards, Quincy Clark, Yasmin James and Chrishaunna Trowers in the national team.
Lawrence said that Cayman will try to win every match by a wide margin and expect Mexico to “come out swinging and in nothing less than fighting form” because both teams are vying to make a big impact to their sevens season.
She praised Mexico as a “great team” but thanks to their coaches Dave Clancy and Henry Warnock-Smith “we have grown so much in our game and only hope to improve even more going forward.”
Although there is a huge social aspect to this tournament, which started with a welcome reception at Peppers Restaurant on Thursday, all the visitors are equally determined to make the most of the opportunity to improve their game at international level.
Dallas captain Tiara Littleton said that Halloween is only really a big deal for children in the US, so it was easy for them to decide to make the trip.
She said, “Besides that, we really had a great time with the Cayman girls when they came up to the States in April for a tourney hosted by another team here, Allen Griffins, and we felt like we didn’t get to wreak enough havoc together when they were here because of time constraints, so why not spend several days in Cayman!”
Littleton added that they are extremely excited about seeing the Cayman girls again and some of the team are returning players from last year.
She also said that Dallas have prepared all summer for this tournament in raging heat as Texas summers are “brutal so the heat will not bother us too much.”
She added, “It got past boiling point for more than 30 days straight here and we’re used to the dryness.
“We will be missing a lot of our players for this trip. Some of them are our coaches are attending the All Blacks game in Chicago, but the girls that are attending the Halloween International know each other pretty well, so we will adjust and play hard like we always do.
“We just want to have fun and play elite level rugby, and learn, build, and bring skills back home.”
Dallas’s best players are Jessica Mendoza, a powerful forward and her bulldozing style is typical of the side.
Molly Whitman is one of their best tacklers. Taunda Tustison is quick on rucks and reacts quickly. Maria Acosta controls the game well and slows her slide down when necessary and keeps them grounded on the field.
Rea Fuentes and Faatima Halipoto are really quick wings. “They are small but their tackles pack a serious punch,” said Littleton.
“Katie Diaz is a beast on tackling as well and is very rough, it takes a lot to get her down.” She added that Tessa Phillips is really tough to stop and a brilliant tackler and Penni Nelson, their captain, “is smart, the voice of reason on field and commands respect.”
Littleton is pretty quick, elusive and hard to take down herself so the Harlequins will not be easy to roll over.
Mexico captain Rosa Rivera was in last year’s NACRA 7s in Cayman. There are seven returning players from that visit where their greatest memory was a coming from behind win over Trinidad & Tobago in the semifinals.
“And none of us will forget our wonderful day trip to swim with the stingrays,” said Rivera who added, “Due to our small size and height, we depend on our quick style game. We choose to attack quickly and not give our larger opponents time to set plays.”
Women’s rugby in Mexico is a fairly new sport but it has grown rapidly from 300 players in 2010 to over 5,000 today. Some of the rugby programs in the Caribbean are much older, especially in British territories.
Mexico has focused their entire development program in sevens which tends to attract smaller, quicker players.
Rivera would not point out any particular player for praise. “I consider all of my teammates my best players, we move together as one whole unit that makes us stronger. I could go with individuals, but rugby is truly a team sport.”
Rugby Ecosse Feminin are not deterred by the tropical climate here and hard pitches. They also have some Irish and Welsh players and a few pros are in the side too.
“We play on hard pitches and often in tropical climates a lot,” said Feminin team manager Terry O’Connor.
“It has also been the driest and warmest autumn in Europe since records began. Tropical storms would be a different matter though!”
Scotland is quite a way behind the development of England and Ireland and are on a par with Wales in terms of women’s rugby.
This is due to a lack of investment in the game, however, Scotland has just appointed Sheila Begbie to run Scotland Women with a big increase in the budget, so O’Connor expects big improvements in the next few years.
He is upbeat partly because of Begbie’s results when she ran Scotland women’s football team and made it world class.
Rugby Ecosse Feminin were the first winners of the Dubai Women’s International 7s in 2005 with a totally Scottish team so they have plenty of pedigree.
He said that their best players are Anne Marie Van Rossum, Sarah Dixon, Pien Selbeck and Megan Gaffney who all have great pace and score lots of tries for their respective teams.