Caymanian women playing rugby was virtually non-existent a few years ago because it was seen locally as purely an eccentric expats’ game.
But to create a world-class national side, it was necessary to actively recruit Caymanians. That policy by local rugby chiefs Derek Haines (president) and Richard “Grizz” Adams (director of rugby) has paid dividends.
Many young, talented Caymanian women now play at club and national level and the ambition of Cayman one day playing at Olympic and world level no longer sounds farcical.
Jenna Richards is a product of the recruitment drive. She has been involved with sevens rugby for four years and played the touch version for two years before that.
They say that rugby suits all body shapes and sizes – there is a position for any type. Richards is petite so it’s hard to imagine where she will thrive in such a physical game, yet she is tougher than she looks, blessed with a swift turn of pace and direction, and is able to absorb the most robust of challenges without too much concern of injury and pain.
“For me, the greatest satisfaction I get out of rugby, besides the amazing fitness, would definitely be the friendships that you form,” she said. “Both here training with your team and touring when you meet new players, all with the same love for the sport.”
She is fully aware that rugby “is a very risky sport and injuries will happen,” but is thankful that so far she has only received minor injuries, such as a sprained ankle, scrapes and bruises.
Although Richards has enjoyed netball and tried out coed flag football last year, rugby remains her sole sporting interest.
She hopes to be a part of the Cayman’s women’s team “when we place first in NACRA [North America Caribbean Rugby Association].”
The 26-year-old was born in Cayman of Jamaican parents and is a pre-school teacher at Little Trotters. She was a contemporary dancer for eight years before finding her rugby legs. Now she dances around opponents.
“When I stopped dancing, I was invited to play touch rugby by my sister Shaunna Noble, which is where my interest in the sport began.”
She ventured over to sevens contact rugby soon after and has stuck with it since.
Last year, her club side was the Lady Iguanas. Having played hooker for four years, she recently switched to scrum-half, one of the key positions in any rugby side. It’s a reflection of how invaluable she now is.
The Rugby World Cup is being beamed from the U.K. at the moment and Richards is enjoying the early games.
She is undecided on who will win the World Cup because no team has stood out, although the All Blacks are clear favorites.
“However, I have been enjoying the games, especially with shocking results like Japan beating South Africa.
“Also, watching the New Zealand game against Argentina was surprising because Argentina applied just enough pressure to the All Blacks to force them into simple mistakes, like risky tackles and knock-ons.
“The All Blacks held it together in the end though.”
Considering the heat and humidity in Cayman, rugby’s popularity here and the brilliance of many of its national sides is surprising.
“Personally, I think it’s all about the atmosphere the sport brings,” she said.
“Sure, it’s a rough sport but the players at the end of games are always very respectful to each other. The fans are all about having a good time.”
She likes the fact that at the rugby club in South Sound at the weekends “it is always very family-oriented, friendly and safe.”
Richards added, “It’s almost guaranteed that you will see parents sitting watching the games as their kids kick the ball around. Or a simple group of friends socializing.”
The annual Halloween 7s are approaching at the end of October. Last year’s inaugural staging went so well it inspired the sprinkling of world-class players from Europe and the U.S. – who came with low expectations – to immediately commit to returning and this time with other elite level teammates and friends.
“The Halloween 7s was a huge success last year,” Richards said. “Simply being able to get teams from the U.S. and Scotland here was not easy. Also, it gave the sport more life by giving the girls new targets to work towards.”
This time there will be many more teams, locals are preparing in earnest and Richards expects a far better tournament. Now a stalwart, Richards is one of a nucleus of players who will carry the sport to a higher level.
She expects in the next few years to see great things from the likes of Ciara Henry, Cassianne Lawrence and captain Shenel Gall. With the rapid development Cayman teams are making, Richards thinks the men’s sevens team has “a very good chance” of eventually making it to the Olympics or a World Cup tournament. “Who knows when, maybe 2019.”