Cayman face the USA South Panthers in Atlanta on Saturday. Cayman, sponsored by RHSW, boasts a strong forward pack with Test veteran Ben McDonald returning to the loose head spot after playing in only one Test last year.
Jake MacAdam will come off the bench to replace McDonald and both have been showing huge improvements in the past few weeks in training and matches.
Jason Scarff remains the favored hooker, getting the nod ahead of Dan McGrath who is a veteran of four previous Tests won in the Under-20 Junior World Trophy in Kenya in 2009 where he played against the full USA U-20 team.
Phil Fourie switches from loose head to tight head and, having not played much since December, is relatively unknown to the management team.
Fourie will be expected to dominate the scrum early on and lend his aggressive work ethic in defense and attack close-in.
Fourie will be required to lock the scrum for as long as possible before veteran Peter de Vere replaces him to close out the game in the set pieces, as well as adding his personal flair to open field carries.
In the engine house, the locks Dan Bond and Mark Soto will supply the heavyweight punch required in the scrum, and jump in the line-out. Both are having stellar seasons for club and country.
The back row has the power and raw aggression of captain Chris Kennedy at No. 8, as well as Paul Smith – both nose-to-the-ground kind of players who show no quarter.
To offset them, Shaun Gerard wins the other flanker spot and, with his nimble quick feet and tough, uncompromising style at the breakdown, will be looking for turnover ball throughout.
Backing up the tight five will be Al Lum and Ben Blair, so there is plenty of cover throughout the forward ranks and these two can play a variety of styles as needed.
Missing is Yohann Regnard who has come down with a mystery bug that has ruled him out of this week’s encounter and Richard Lewis who is recovering after knee surgery; otherwise, the pack remains fairly unchanged from 2014.
Sam Sage returns from a six-year hiatus to take the scrum-half spot.
Sage, who returned to the Buccaneers this year, has worked hard to get back to international standard and replaces the still recovering Robbie Cribb, who is expected to be fit and available for the Mexico game on April 11.
Morgan Hayward returns to fill the fly-half shirt. Hayward, who now plays in Wales, will take the reins on the field and has matured as a leader in the past two seasons, both with his rugby knowledge, his foot and his excellent passing and ability to read the game and spot a gap.
Joel Clark and Dave Acutt add a real element of danger to the two wing positions. With Kes Wright not available for this match, both have shown that they have a great nose for the line and excellent defensive qualities and if the USA South let the ball get wide, they will be in real trouble as these two work their magic.
In the center positions, Jon Murphy and Justin Wight form a new combination that boasts plenty of punch and power. There may be some questions over their defense but that will only be determined at the conclusion of the match. At full back, Chris Palmer adds a calm voice and rugby brain and with Clark and Acutt working with Hayward in the back, they should have an easy day and be able to pick the gaps to attack through.
Josh Brown, James Waters and Paul Westin will back up the starting back line and each adds their own skills and variety to the squad.
Director of Rugby Richard “Grizz” Adams said, “It is certainly not a star-studded squad and we expect that it may look quite different from the squad to face Mexico when many of our overseas players become available from school.
“However, this squad is solid … and everyone has worked hard and is fitter than last year and stronger and more powerful. We have lost to the USA South in the past two years, both times by three or less points and this year we want to make a statement.”
He added that next year for the Rugby World Cup Qualifier for the region, Cayman wants to go in ranked No. 1. “It won’t be easy and every guy on the team and in the management group will have to be at the absolute best to make this a reality but it is an achievable goal if we all work together.”