Cayman’s national mixed touch rugby team won the USA Touch National Championships 2015 in Orlando over the weekend.
Cayman ripped up the form book and beat the best the U.S. had to offer at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Playing in a round robin group of five teams, Cayman got to the final on the back of two wins and two draws. The closeness of some of the results shows just how tight the competition was.
In the final against Washington-based Galaxy DC, Cayman faced a highly skilled, tenacious and superbly drilled team with an ability to score from almost any play.
In the earlier rounds, Cayman had drawn 8-8 with Galaxy DC, so they had the confidence that they could match them on the scoreboard.
Cayman ironed out earlier problems with their corner-and-shut defence and the plan was to defend hard, use arrow plays to attack the DC defense and, when in the strike zone be clinical.
Both teams started the game with a high work-rate to probe for an opening.
One of Cayman’s main attributes was teamwork. This allowed for continual rotation of the player roster and fresh legs on the park.
Captain Morgan Shelver was the driving force and he acknowledged the contributions of his teammates.
But for all Cayman’s effort in the first half, they found themselves three tries down. At this level that is a huge deficit, but Shelver remained confident at halftime.
Cayman changed its defensive strategy to play shut-down defense from both sides as the Galaxy threat came up the middle from their two centres. By squeezing the play it became far harder for Galaxy to thread through the gaps.
As the second half progressed, the tide began to turn. Galaxy started making mistakes and Cayman’s attack grew in confidence and delivery.
Jono Milne provided a virtuoso performance, scoring five tries. His eye for a gap was uncanny and time and again he would accelerate through a gap, diving full length to avoid the outstretched hands.
The score was pegged back and in the dying moments of the game the score was levelled at 9-9.
Each team started the sudden death period with five players; then after every two minutes a player was withdrawn until it was just three-on-three.
Drop-offs do not usually last long, but such was the desire of both teams that chances came and went.
Cayman substituted rapidly so that energy levels were always high. It was clear Cayman’s fitness could be the key. With tiring limbs and minds, Galaxy made the fatal mistake of having an extra player on the pitch, resulting in a penalty just inside their own half.
Ian Smith, who had been outstanding all tournament, tapped a quick penalty before the Galaxy defenders could retreat the required five meters.
Calling offside, the referees played advantage and Smith raced through the defenders to score the winning try.
Shelver said, “I don’t think words can explain it as well as the scenes of us hugging and jumping all over each other. It was a huge honour to be part of this group. Thanks team.”
Scott McCarty, president of the Cayman Touch Association added, “This result is the culmination of 2½ years of hard work from a lot of people which makes it hugely satisfying.
“We attended the competition in 2013 and were well beaten. To win the competition two years later is a great achievement for which the players should be very proud.
“This result puts Cayman on the touch rugby map and gives us a great foundation to build for the future. We’d love to thank Personnel 2000 for sponsoring us and helping making this trip possible.”