Rugby fans absorbed by minnows

The Rugby World Cup is going down a storm with its fans in the Cayman Islands, even though England will not progress out of the group stages, having lost heavily to Australia last weekend. 

Local sports bars are packed when the big matches are on and this weekend the mighty New Zealand All Blacks kick off the fixtures on Friday against Tonga (2 p.m. locally). 

Saturday’s games are Samoa vs. Scotland (8:30 a.m.), Australia against Wales (10:45 a.m.) and England vs. Uruguay (2 p.m.) 

Sunday’s games will attract the most interest to France vs. Ireland (10:45 a.m.) and United States vs. Japan (2 p.m.) 

Englishman Ashley Sands is enjoying watching the rugby in Fidel Murphy’s, despite England’s losses to Wales and the Aussies. “I don’t really want to talk too much about England going out of the Rugby World Cup,” said Sands on Sunday. “Fair play to Australia who played fantastic. Brutally, they just took us over and the referee really wasn’t on our side, I don’t think.” 

Overall though, Sands added, the tournament is entertaining and Wales have impressed him the most so far. Although the All Blacks are huge favorites to retain their world title, he thinks they will “choke” in the quarterfinals or semifinals. 

“I think South Africa are the most likely to win it after their embarrassing loss to Japan,” Sands said. “And after the way Australia played against England, we can’t count them out either.” 

Sands played rugby at school in London and at club level for Eton Manor in Walthamstow. A Spurs supporter, he grew up watching the marvellous side that included Ricky Villa and Osvaldo Ardiles, the Argentinian aces. 

“The England rugby side has a bigger place in my heart than the England soccer team,” Sands said. “I think the footballers are overpaid prima donnas.” 

David Guilfoyle is another huge rugby fan regularly seen in Fidel’s, pint of Guinness in hand. 

Born in Dartford, South London of Irish parents from Dublin, Guilfoyle identifies more with his Celtic heritage than his English side. 

He attended a Catholic grammar school up to his late teens where rugby was the dominant sport. Playing club rugby against adults as a full back or center was not as much fun as at school “because I was too small and got beat up every week” so he became a spectator instead. 

Guilfoyle has lived here for 14 years and works in the telecommunications industry. 

“This World Cup has been absolutely excellent,” he said. “I’m more impressed with the so-called smaller teams like Georgia, Tonga, Samoa and Namibia, who have all played great.” 

He likes the fact that the weaker teams are competitive against the stronger sides and not getting slaughtered by up to 120 points as has happened in previous World Cups. Guilfoyle puts that down to improved coaching, discipline and fitness levels among the smaller nations. 

He wants to see an improvement in the Ireland side that beat Italy 16-9 on Sunday. 

The Irish hope to see the return of brilliant center Jared Payne who has a bruised foot. 

Ireland’s game against France this Sunday is crucial because the winner will top Group D. Whoever tops the group is likely to play Argentina in the quarterfinals and the other side will face the formidable New Zealand. 

Guilfoyle used to live in New Zealand and has a soft spot for them, but hopes Ireland go through, however the fixtures pan out. 

“Everybody’s favorite other team is probably Japan after what they did to South Africa,” said Guilfoyle. “It set the tone for the World Cup, anything can happen. The up-and-coming teams have made this tournament for me.” 

Ashley Sands

Ashley Sands prefers rugby to football. – PHOTOS: RON SHILLINGFORD