The thriving Cayman Islands rugby scene received another boost when the Under-18 boys national team was invited to the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa later this year.
The invitation for the seven-a-side competition is the first time Cayman has been selected for the Games.
“We’ll get a bunch of 16- and 17-year-old boys playing world-class rugby much like we did when we went to Kenya for the Junior World Trophy in 2009,” Cayman Islands Rugby Union chief executive officer Richard “Grizz” Adams said.
“And those guys now are the guys playing for the national team, the national 7s. You know, it’s a level of exposure and play that you just don’t get an opportunity to do otherwise.” The tryouts will be held this Sunday, Feb. 8, from 10 a.m. at the rugby club in South Sound.
Players must hold a valid Cayman Islands passport or have a status stamp and be born in 1997 or 1998.
“What this means now is that on the back of those guys that went in 2009 – and they’re all 24, 25 now – we’ll get another crop that will be 16 or 17 years old backing these guys up.
“For rugby on the island and for our international competition, it’s massive because we just don’t get these opportunities to go to these levels of competition.” The Samoa 2015 Youth Games are from Sept. 5-11 and will involve around 1,000 Commonwealth athletes ages 14-18.
This will be the fifth Commonwealth Youth Games. Previous Games were held in Isle of Man (2011), Pune India (2008), Bendigo, Australia (2004) and Edinburgh, Scotland (2000).
The Commonwealth Youth Games is often the first opportunity to see the next generation of top athletes in action on the world stage.
Such successes include English athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, who won silver in the 100 meters hurdles and high jump at the Bendigo 2004 Commonwealth Youth Games and then went on to win bronze in the heptathlon at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.
Since then, Ennis-Hill won the gold medal in the heptathlon at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Adams added that “these games are exactly the kind of stage where we want our young athletes to perform.”
The Kenya trip was a magnificent experience, he stated and added that the Games are world-class and tough for a small island nation, but the growth of both the game and the individual players who bonded with love and pride to represent themselves and their country was simply irreplaceable.
Adams said that every single member of the party “grew and came home a different person and that has been carried through into their everyday life. This will be no different.” He added that from looking at the 13 other countries participating, the fact that Cayman is invited to compete at this level speaks volumes of the sport’s programs and development in the past 15 years.
“We are very fortunate to have this opportunity and the support of excellent youth sponsors such as Maples & Calder, Aon, Greenlight Re, the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee and the government.”
Cayman has a strong core group of players for the tournament, but in the interests of future growth Adams is appealing to athletes from other sports, particularly track and field, basketball and football.
“In fact, any sport where hand-to-eye coordination is required. Rugby sevens has room for athletes of all sizes and fits and, let’s face it, speed and agility is king.”
A squad of 12 athletes will go to the Games, and Adams wants to prepare with a squad of 20, alongside the national senior men’s squad who are also preparing for Olympic qualifiers this June. Talented youngsters expected to be in the squad include Liam Kay and Cameron Bridgeman, who coaches will develop into established seniors like the Clark brothers Joel and Josh, Alex Pineau, Keswick Wright, Morgan Hayward, Robbie Cribb Jr., Alex Harvey and the Westin brothers Edwin and Paul.
“At the U-18 level this is the world’s leading rugby sevens showcase and most of the athletes participating will go onto professional careers in rugby as well as receiving scholarships and life opportunities.”
He said they have already seen a plethora of Cayman players receive professional contracts and educational opportunities and with the world’s eyes on these youngsters for a week, they expect some more players to get picked up into professional circles.
“We have a world-class coaching staff and we are expecting that to be bolstered by the arrival of Jovan Bowles from South Africa in May,” Adams said. Bowles has played rugby sevens for South Africa in the World Series and has also played against the British and Irish Lions.
Talks are ongoing with Bowles, who is hired initially for a four-month spell and for a longer term stint if arrangements can be made.
Adams said he is “delighted to have such a talent at the players disposal.”
The challenge for the flourishing rugby scene will be financing the development.
“We have brilliant sponsors and financiers for the all of the current and planned development programs, but this is a brand new venture and did not form part of our long-term athlete development and strategic plans as these opportunities did not exist 12 months ago. That we have been included is staggering.”
He is confident of getting the sponsorship on the basis that rugby 7s is now featured in many youth Games, including the Commonwealth, Olympics and Pan Am and will be included for the first time at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
He added that he is keen to also get Cayman’s U-18 girls playing internationally as well.
In the next few months he wants to get the youngsters away to warm-up tournaments and training camps for optimum preparation.
“We need to invest the time and effort into these young Caymanians in order to enjoy the legacy of our investment, World Rugby’s investment and the Commonwealth Games investment for decades to come as these players share their knowledge and experiences with more young Caymanians in all sports and life situations.”
As the programs expand, there is a need to add to the coaching staff, which is why Cayman Rugby Union in partnership with the government and Aon have just employed local player Justin Wight as the head of its youth development. Wight, who returned to Cayman last year after completing his sport and business management degree abroad, now heads up all youth development and school programs and will also be in charge of the coaching team for Samoa under the guidance of Adams and Bowles.
Wight will also have the support of Dave Clancy, head strength and conditioning coach, Venasio Tokatokavanua (coach), Al Bartice (head physio), Sean Teeling (chief medical officer) and Chad Collins (diet and nutrition).
Wight has been in the program for 13 years. He has represented Cayman in 7s and 15-a-side at all levels and is part of the current 7s national squad. Adams said, “He will inevitably be working with for the next five to 20 years in the schools and communities, so it is imperative that he starts to learn his coaching skills and gain the necessary world accreditation to become a leader in this field. This is a perfect starting point for that development.
Exciting times at the Cayman Rugby Union indeed.”
For more information, contact Justin Wight at [email protected].