Saturday will be something of a red letter day for the Cayman Rugby Football Union.
One group of players, led by coaches Richard Adams and Jovan Bowles, will be in Las Vegas honing their final preparations before the Hong Kong Sevens, while back at their South Sound home, the RHSW National Men’s XV will be kicking off the second warmup match of their season against a strong University of Michigan team.
It is a clear indication of the positive vibes surrounding the RHSW National Men’s XV’s preparations that new coach Phil Pretorius has been able to name a strong side despite many of Cayman’s traditionally key players playing in the Vegas Sevens showcase.
Last weekend, the National Team defeated Cayman Club Select 61-0 after a stodgy first 35 minutes in which the team struggled to assert itself. The University of Michigan, though, will provide a different test as Cayman build toward their first Rugby World Cup 2019 Qualifying fixture against the Bahamas on May 21 at Truman Bodden Stadium.
The University of Michigan play in Division 1A in the U.S. collegiate system, facing strong Midwest rivals such as Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame. They will no doubt provide a stern test for a developing Cayman Islands side who have made four lineup changes from the prior week as they look to try different combinations and develop their game plan further.
One of the key introductions is at hooker, where Pretorius has named Joey Westin.
“Joey had a very strong game for the Club Select side last week, so it is right that he is given an opportunity to step up this week,” confirmed Pretorius. “He has great strength over the ball in the breakdown, and we will look for him to win turnovers for us in the wide channels.”
Pretorius worked extensively with 2004 IRB World Player of the Year Schalk Burger, whose turnover work was lauded throughout the 2007 World Cup (won by the South Africa team of which Burger was a key part) and who has represented the Springboks 86 times.
“The ability to stay on your feet and win turnover ball when players are hitting you from all directions is so critical for successful rugby in this era that we need to encourage all of our players to develop the skill,” said Pretorius. “Maybe having many strong brothers fighting for the ball in the back garden as you grow up is the key.”
The game kicks off at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Rugby Club in South Sound.