The Cayman Islands rugby scene is not resting on its laurels after the momentous achievements of its sevens team last month when a team of Caymanian passport holders qualified for a spot in the Hong Kong Sevens along with the top 26 sevens teams in the world.
Cayman will compete in Hong Kong next April and attempt to join the World Sevens Series top 16 teams globally.
To do so, Cayman will compete with 12 teams from six regions, all of whom have qualified through their regional championships.
The six regions are Europe, North America, South America, Oceania, Asia and Africa. The top two placed teams from this tournament will join the 14 full-time World Sevens Series teams in the 2016/17 season to play in front of crowds in excess of 70,000 each day, as well as millions globally on television and the Internet.
The tournaments are played over a six-month period starting in Dubai, then South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, USA, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, France and ending at the London Sevens in England in June 2017.
So how did a team from the Cayman Islands manage such lofty goals?
The answer is strong long-term planning, constant review, solid development of Caymanians through school, youth and community programs, massive investment and support from the financiers of the program, organizers say.
Richard “Grizz” Adams is director of rugby for the Cayman Islands. Fifteen years ago he visited Cayman for three weeks to look at the program here and help coach the national side through some championships.
As part of the visit, he went to some fledgling programs at the schools and was very impressed with the raw talent.
A year later Adams was the head coach of the Canada Under-19s at the Rugby World Cup in France when he received an offer to coach full-time in Cayman and to develop a program here.
“I believed then, as I do now that the potential was so exciting in Cayman that it could not be ignored,” Adams said. “I honestly believed Cayman could be another Fiji when it came to rugby. So we sold up, packed up and dragged the whole family over to Cayman.”
He still found that the challenges were daunting, despite the potential. However, all the pieces fell into place despite setbacks and hold-ups.
“What we needed first was Caymanians playing the game in schools. [The] best way to get the game into the schools was to ask the few Caymanians playing the game to help out with school coaching sessions.” The schools continue to work with Adams in the long-term planning process and school delivery. Greenlight RE became a sponsor of the in-school program nearly 10 years ago and have helped school development and inter-school competition gradually across the island.
The Cayman Islands government has also believed in the long-term strategic planning.
Maples has backed the program for almost a decade too, sponsoring the sevens academy and the youth programs.
The Cayman U-19 side won their first regional championship in 2008 in Barbados and also qualified to play in the Junior World Trophy in Kenya in 2009 as one of the top 20 U-20 teams globally.
The team goals in the tournament had nothing to do with the result of the match but rather how many scrums Cayman could win, how many line outs, how many tackles they could make and so on. In that way the players managed to grow and believe that they were still excelling in certain aspects of play.
“In fact, one of the proudest moments I have ever had in this game … was watching every single opposition player, official, caterer, media, server, medic, give the Cayman Islands players a standing ovation as we entered the final tournament dinner banquet in recognition of the spirit and pride of our players [against] overwhelming odds,” Adams said.
The U-19 team won the regional championship again in 2009, on home turf, again in 2010 in Mexico, 2012 in Cayman and 2013 in Trinidad and are currently attempting to make that six times in Orlando.
They are backed financially by Dart who have invested in the U-19 team for the past five years and are now an integral component of the team’s success and growth.
In 2012 rugby sevens became an Olympic sport for 2016 and 2020, and the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee has given immense support.
Recently, AON sponsored the employment of new youth director Justin Wight, who through the legacy program is teaching children the skills he was taught all through his youth career. Others, including Joel and Josh Clark, Mike Wilson, Dow Travers, Robbie Cribb Jr., Morgan Hayward, Ed and Paul Westin, Keswick Wright, Mark Soto and Alex Harvey, have become accomplished players.
“In North Carolina a month ago I enjoyed looking around at the players’ faces in the hotel pre-tournament, remembering them as fledgling players … ” Adams said. “I enjoyed remembering the victories, defeats, the heartache and glory. … I really enjoyed watching it all finally pay off as the Cayman Islands team executed with precision to attain the goal that we had been building towards as a country and as a union for 15 years.”