The Advance Fire Buccaneers and the Fidelity Cayman Storm will meet at 4 p.m. Saturday after reaching the top in the semifinals of the Dart Vase on March 12, when the teams scored 137 points over the two games.
The competition pitted the winners of the Alex Alexander Memorial Trophy, the Queensgate Pigs Trotters, against the team that finished last in the league, the Fidelity Cayman Storm, and, in the opening match, the second-place John Doak Iguanas against third-place Advance Fire and Plumbing Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers felt keenly the loss through injury of their star fly half, Morgan Shelver, and starting props Dan Bond and Phil Fourie. Nevertheless, they fielded a strong pack spearheaded by key ball carriers Ben Blair and Seviriano Tabuaniwere, the latter known to many on island as the friendly face of security at Cost-U-Less. They started the game quickly, dominating the opening exchanges around the fringes.
It was at the scrum, though, that the Iguanas began to wrest back the initiative, with the experienced combination of Ben McDonald and Peter de Vere asserting themselves against a comparatively raw Bucs front row which included Cayman Under-19 player Mikey Titcombe.
The appearance of a number of Under-19 players was a hugely encouraging sight and evidence that the hard work of youth development manager Justin Wight and his fellow coaches with that age group is really starting to pay off. These players did not look out of their depth in men’s rugby, which suggests the future is bright.
During the match, the lead constantly changed hands, with neither side ever quite getting away on the scoreboard. In the backs, Dan O’Connor and James Padden began to give the Iguanas the upper hand, but a combination of lineout woes and lack of discipline at the breakdown kept the Bucs in constant contact as Dave Clancy knocked over a number of impressive penalties from all angles.
For the Bucs, Cameron Bridgeman was a constant thorn in the side of the Iguanas around the fringes, maintaining a ferocious work-rate.
Ultimately, the match was decided in three frenzied final minutes. First, a quickly taken lineout from the Bucs’ scrum-half, Dave Stringer (brother of long-time Irish international 9, Peter) led to a length of the field try scrambled over by Shakur Welcome, another relative newcomer to the game. It was Titcombe, though, who struck the final blow, bursting through tired fringe defense and dashing 40 yards to touchdown and seal a 44-34 victory.
The second match may have seemed like a foregone conclusion. The Pigs had not lost since the opening day of the season (when the Iguanas claimed the Heineken Charity Shield) and had twice run up a half-century of points against the Storm who had lost every game to date.
The Storm, though, have been improving steadily under the guidance of head coach Brendan Touhey, and the Pigs were missing a number of players as members of the Borrelli Walsh National Sevens Squad for Hong Kong had been withdrawn from the line of fire.
Nevertheless, the Pigs were quick out of the gate, racking up a 14-0 lead in the opening 10 minutes, led by captain Al Lum and the dynamic Irish duo Clive O’Mahony and Matt Drum.
The Storm, though, shook themselves off and counterattacked, led by their own Irish contingent – Darren Mulcair at Number 8, Killian Everard at fly half and Shane Cusack who seemed to be everywhere, eventually claiming two tries.
Despite suffering the loss of Roelof Oelofson to a broken ankle, the Storm’s spirit was never broken and they hung on to claim a 33-26 win.