Hong Kong tilt is sevens heaven

Cayman rugby has celebrated many achievements in recent seasons, and another one was added over the weekend when the national sevens team returned home in triumph.

They had an extremely successful North American and Caribbean Rugby Association championship in Cary, North Carolina.

The tournament also served as the North American regional Olympic qualifier, with the winning team guaranteed a place in Rio de Janeiro next year, and second and third place entering the Olympic repechage tournament later this year.

The third- and fourth-place teams in the men’s division also qualify for a spot at the World Sevens Series qualification tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens, the mecca of all global sevens tournaments.

Finishing in any of the top four places was always going to be a massive task, with the USA having just won the London Sevens and showing that on current form they are the No. 1 fully professional team in the world.

Canada are ranked seventh in the world as a fully professional program, and Mexico are the only other professional team in the region. Guyana are the reigning NACRA champions and the only team to have beaten Mexico in recent times.

Cayman entered the tournament ranked seventh in the full North American and Caribbean standings.

In their pool on day one were matches against Trinidad and Tobago (fifth), Guyana (third), Bahamas (10th) and Canada (second).

In an Olympic qualification tournament, all players must hold a valid Cayman Islands passport. A status stamp does not qualify an athlete.

Cayman were reduced to a bare minimum 12 players due to unavailability, injury and school exams, so the obstacles were mounting.

In the end, just 10 players embarked on the trip after two late withdrawals, with the odds stacking against Hong Kong dreams.

Coach Richard “Grizz” Adams said the team arrived just after midnight on Thursday. They got to bed and the players slept in and had a late breakfast. Training was in the afternoon and was based on getting Mike Peck, who would be playing in his first sevens tournament, up to speed since he had only arrived in Cayman from university on Wednesday night.

The lads all pitched in and they had a superb session, and things were starting to click, Adams said.

They had a quiet night and just talked about the players taking leadership, relaxing and playing with control, belief and patience.

Their top objective was to get the ball and hang on to it so they could control the pace of the game.

Adams wanted his side to continue the excellent form they showed in a tournament last month in Costa Rica when Cayman walked away with the title, scoring 187 points and conceding only 17.

He knew that if they won all three games on Saturday, Cayman would automatically make the semifinals on day two and win the coveted place in Hong Kong, despite having a squad of only 10.

Historically, Trinidad have been an extremely tough team to beat. They have a massive playing reserve and have a serious almost-pro program. Cayman lost to them heavily in Central American and Caribbean games last November.

This time around, Cayman scored three unanswered tries to win 15-0 on day 1. Next up, Guyana, the reigning champs. Cayman were down 5-0 at half-time and rallied in the second half to lead 14-5 before Guyana scored in the dying seconds to give Cayman a 14-12 win.

Then Cayman faced Bahamas, who while ranked below them had already upset a couple of higher ranked sides in the tournament and had a surprisingly close game with Canada.

“We knew there were 14 minutes between us and Hong Kong, in fact everyone knew it,” said Adams.

“Cayman was the talk of the tournament, arriving with only 10 players and knocking off Trinidad and Guyana.

“I would like to say we played well against Bahamas, but we really did not. The pressure was evident, and at one point all our hearts were in our mouths as Bahamas held us to a 14-12 lead and were applying pressure.”

Adams said that once again “this magical group of guys rallied and we scored twice more to take the final score 28-19 and book our historical place in the 2016 World Sevens Series in Hong Kong.”  On Sunday morning, Cayman faced Canada and then the USA before playing in the semifinal of the tournament and the final of the Caribbean tournament against Mexico.

Cayman were also down to seven healthy players and three injured substitutes whom they had to manage in order to have half a chance in the Mexico match.
They worked on certain aspects of their game against Canada and the USA with a view to entering the final match against Mexico with renewed confidence. Cayman got through the games fairly injury-free and achieved most of their objectives.

They lost heavily to both, but the scores in those games were never the focus, just a chance to test certain areas of their game against two of the world’s best professional sevens teams.

In the Olympic repechage game for the top two spots in the Caribbean, Cayman started slowly, with Mexico taking a 21-0 half-time lead. Cayman looked tired, Adams said.

In the second half, Mexico got an early score and at 26-0, the game looked over. Once again, from some deep reserve, Cayman shone through as they tore Mexico apart for almost four minutes, scoring 19 unanswered points.

“We needed just one more score to tie and take it to extra time, but the clock mysteriously kept clicking and we never got the ball back and lost the Olympic chance 26-19,” Adams said.

“I was stunned, and to a large extent I still am, at what a truly amazing sporting effort and story this is.

Finishing in any of the top four places was always going to be a massive task, with the USA having just won the London Sevens and showing that on current form they are the No. 1 fully professional team in the world.


Justin Wight watches on in the final against Mexico.


Paul Westin being tackled by USA’s Carlin Isles, the fastest man in world sevens.


Jubilant Cayman, from left, Paul Westin, Mark Soto, Justin Wight, Michael Peck, Robbie Cribb, Kramer Bell, Joel Clark, Dow Travers, Edward Westin. Missing: Taylor Wight.

Comments are closed.