Cayman Rugby is set to tackle its highest ever level of competition at the Americas Rugby Challenge.
Cayman earned an invitation to the tournament – which will also include host nation Colombia, Paraguay and Mexico – by beating Guyana in a one-sided qualification match earlier this year. Now, the team is preparing to leave on Thursday and to face off against Colombia in its opening game Sunday.
Jovan Bowles, the technical director of Cayman Rugby, said his players have never faced Colombia or Paraguay before, and that it will be a huge test to measure their talent against larger nations.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” said Bowles on Saturday. “It’s all about commitment and willingness outside of your 9-to-5. If you’re not passionate about what you want to do, you’ll never be able to achieve anything. I’m super grateful for the guys that are here today and the squad of 28 that’s come on board to work outside of their normal paying jobs and to commit themselves completely.”
Bowles said that all but one member of his team has a full-time job, and many of his players are involved in the financial industry. It takes a huge sacrifice for them to practise at the end of their workday, and an even greater sacrifice to leave their jobs and their families to compete for their country.
Chris Kennedy, the team’s captain, said that some of his teammates are actually leaving family vacations to come join the team and link arms against Colombia, Paraguay and Mexico.
“That’s why we’re here. We enjoy doing it,” said Kennedy of the personal commitment. “It’s a great buzz to pull on the Cayman jersey. It’s great fun and it is worth sacrificing a bit. You’ve got training at 5:45 on a Thursday morning, and we’ve been training late on Tuesday evenings. Early Saturday mornings. The guys have kids and they have jobs. There are other things going on, but the reward is worth it.”
Many of the players on the team have traditional rugby backgrounds, but Bowles said Saturday that he’s been able to raid the local flag football community to bring in some talented newcomers. There are technique differences, of course, but Bowles said the two games share a lot of similarities.
“The only aspect we’re now adding is that the ball gets passed backwards and not forwards,” he said of his new additions. “In flag football, you get flagged and it breaks down for a minute or 45 seconds before the next play. In rugby, there’s a contact point and there’s continuation of the play until there’s a knock-on and then there’s a break in play. We’ve benefitted from those guys bringing their agility and their speed and their quickness and their decision-making aspects to the game of rugby.”
Cayman will play Colombia on Sunday, Paraguay next Wednesday, and then wrap up its tournament with a game against Mexico on 31 Aug. Cayman beat Mexico by a 39‑17 score at Truman Bodden Sports Complex in June 2017, but Kennedy said they are bracing for a tougher game this time around.
“We had some special conditions that day. It was slashing rain,” said Kennedy. “We just basically bombarded their full-back with high balls and he didn’t have a great day. We’re not expecting to have it that easy against Mexico. They’ve almost got a full professional programme. That game was 18 months ago. We definitely think we can put in a performance against Mexico and against all of the teams.”
Rugby is a tough sport and Cayman’s team has been altered by injury. But injuries are a major part of the game, and Bowles said he’s had to ramp back practices to assure a healthy team in Colombia.
“The nature of the game is knocks and bruises,” he said. “From a coaching perspective and a management perspective, it’s just making sure they are 100% fresh coming into tournaments. We’ve tapered down quite a bit going on tour. It’s been a tough six weeks leading into it. A lot of conditioning aspects added onto the learning curve of the game and what we want to achieve.”