National sevens squad named for Hong Kong tournament

Joel Clark makes a break. He and Paul Westin are among 14 rugby players from Cayman going to an international match in Hong Kong next month.

After traveling to the Las Vegas Invitational rugby tournament on March 3-5 with 31 players, coaches Richard “Grizz” Adams and Jovan Bowles have announced the squad of 14 who will compete at the Hong Kong Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens next month.

The Borrelli Walsh Cayman National Sevens squad for Hong Kong is comprised of Josh Brown (Fidelity Cayman Storm), Chris Bunce (John Doak Iguanas), Joel Clark (Advance Fire and Plumbing Buccaneers), Robbie Cribb Jr. (Queensgate Pigs Trotters), Iain Currie (Pigs), Alex Harvey (Pigs), Morgan Hayward (Buccs), Jonathan Murphy (Buccs), Cueme Parker (Iguanas), Abdull Patterson (Pigs), Mark Soto (Buccs), Dow Travers (Buccs), Paul Westin (Pigs) and Justin Wight (Pigs).

Local coaches said in a press release, “Qualifying for Hong Kong is a stunning achievement for this group of players and coaches who have been training at remarkable intensity for weeks in preparation for what probably ranks as the greatest moment in the history of team sport in the Cayman Islands.”

The experience in Las Vegas was critical in the selection process, coaches said.

“The whole tournament was eye-opening,” said Bowles, a former South Africa Sevens star.

“We wanted to test the players’ ability to adjust to something other than what they may be used to when playing on island.”

In one match, Cayman were pitched against Daveta Fiji, an elite side from the kings of Sevens rugby, featuring five current Fiji internationals. Though Cayman lost, the coaches were able to identify that Daveta’s three first half tries came directly from three unforced errors from Cayman – the rest of the game plan, and particularly Cayman’s defense, held up well under the tough challenge.

“Handling errors were killers,” said Adams, “and mistakes against the best teams were key to our selection. Ultimately, we were hugely pleased with the results, even if we were disappointed with some individual performances.” This may seem a peculiar assessment in light of only three wins in nine matches, but reflects the focus with which the squad went to Las Vegas, coaches indicated.

“Our priority wasn’t to win the tournament, but to hone our selection,” said Adams. “The result was that we put players on the field in unusual positions and sometimes selected weird combinations. We were even willing to lose individual games by leaving players on the field longer than was preferable because we wanted to test their performance under fatigue.”

This potential for multiple permutations is reflected in the final selection, where players who offer real flexibility have in some instances been preferred to specialists. Adams identified four players in particular who offer real versatility. “We played all of Iain Currie, Alex Harvey, Josh Brown and Chris Bunce in multiple positions, and they stepped up in all circumstances. With a limited squad in Hong Kong, that will be a key asset.”

Both Adams and Bowles singled out one player for particular praise – 19-year-old West Bay resident Abdull Patterson, who has been playing rugby for only eight months.

“He is the quickest guy in our final squad, has incredible confidence and has never had the time to learn bad habits,” explained the coaches.

Paul Westin makes a pass.
Paul Westin makes a pass.

Another star of the Las Vegas show was Morgan Hayward, who Bowles described as the “cool, calm and controlled glue” who connected the forwards and backs. Hayward, unfortunately, twisted his knee in the win over Peru and the injury may be more serious than was first thought. He has flown to Cardiff for a scan, the results of which will determine his further involvement. His absence, Adams concedes, would be a “big, big loss.”

The clock is now ticking toward kick-off on April 8 and the coaches agree there is plenty to do.

“Dave Clancy has done a great job getting the players to a world-class level of fitness,” noted Adams, “but while we could play other teams to a standstill, we didn’t have the next gear needed to put them away. Scoring opportunities in Hong Kong will be at a premium and our finishing was disappointing.”

Those selected face a punishing regime, including numerous beach sessions, in an effort to gain that edge, the coaches said. The squad will also have 12 days together in Hong Kong prior to the tournament to hone skills and build the “chemistry” that Bowles says also played a part in selection.

As for how Cayman rugby will benefit from the Hong Kong experience, Adams said, “Our strength in the fifteen man game will come from feeding Sevens players back into the RHSW National Men’s XV after this is done. Competing on the world stage at XVs presents real challenges for a nation with such a small population, but with Sevens we can really make an impact.”