April 23, 2021

Cayman Rugby at Las Vegas

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1015455_460013607454807_522245290_oFrom Cayman Rugby

A Maples & Calder National Cayman Rugby Sevens Academy squad were in tough in the Las Vegas invitational Sevens Elite division January 23rd and 24th. The Las Vegas sevens forms part of the World seven’s series which involves all of the top sixteen countries worldwide. The series resembles the Formula 1 grand prix schedule in its championship, in that sixteen countries compete in eleven separate tournaments worldwide for tournament points and the team with the most points at the end of the series is the winner for that year. The Las Vegas Elite Invitational tournament attracts many international and professional and semi-professional teams who are just below this level and working towards qualification to the full world seven’s series. The World Sevens Series has just been identified as a vehicle to qualification t the 2016 Olympic games with the top four teams in the 2015 series automatically qualifying to Rio and as such tournaments such as Las Vegas are high among the priorities of the Cayman Rugby Sevens. It is also important that only players who hold a Cayman Passport are in fact eligible to participate in any Olympic competition and as such the development of Passport holding Caymanians is essential for the longevity and growth of the sport in Cayman and is why the Union invests over 35% of its total revenues in to the Greenlight RE Schools Development Program where their full time development officers spend over nine months full time in most of the Cayman schools both private and Government teaching and developing Rugby programs.

Cayman was drawn with Canada Maple Leafs, Belgium and Zoo Ronin sports in their pool for day 1. The maples leafs are the full Canadian development squad, Belgium are the top team in Europe 2013 and Zoo Ronin are an British invitational side comprised of professional and semi-professional players from Division 1 Rugby. Cayman faced Zoo Ronin in their first game which we tied 19 – 19 with Zoo Ronin scoring at the death of the game to snatch the draw so it was a great start against the top seeded side in the pool. Cayman then faced the Maple Leafs who had lost to Belgium 14 – 19 in their first match of pool play. The Maple Leafs proved too much for Cayman despite some very spirited performances and long stretches where Cayman dominated possession. Canada ran out winners 38 – 7 but Cayman did score a very well worked try in the encounter. Belgium was always going to be a huge ask for the Cayman team and having just beaten Zoo Ronin 24 – 7 Belgium were full of confidence. Belgium had observed Cayman play in its first two matches and used their superior size and power to hold the Cayman players up in the tackle and therefore force turn over scrum ball. Cayman were unable to counter this in the first seven minute half and Belgium scored 34 unanswered points. In the second half Cayman adapted much better to these tactics by getting lower and driving harder through contact and while they finished the game without scoring they did hold Belgium to just two more scores in the second half with the final score being 48 – 0. This set up a Bowl quarter final against Trinidad and Tobago on Friday morning and of course Trinidad and Tobago are the current NACRA regional champions and knocked Cayman out of the Commonwealth Games qualifiers held here in Cayman last November. Cayman again struggled to get possession in the first half of this game and Trinidad took a 12 to 7 half time lead. Trinidad scored again immediately after the half to take the lead to 19 to 7 but then Cayman finally managed to get possession and once they had the ball Cayman racked up 22 unanswered points to beat the current NACRA champions 29 to 19 and move into the semi-final of the Bowl competition and knock Trinidad out of the Bowl and into the Shield. Cayman faced Zoo Ronin once again in the Semi-final and despite a great effort ended up losing 26 to 19 in a heart breaking game which Cayman finished on top but simply ran out of time in the second half.

Richard Grizz Adams was satisfied with the two day performances,’ There were a few Caribbean teams here and we finished higher than any of them so that is a good sign. We have been a slow starting team especially in day 1 of tournaments as was witnessed in Cayman in November and this has hamstrung us for years. I believe we may have finally found the correct preparation methods to overcome this as we came out firing on all cylinders on day 1 here in Vegas and played the best Rugby Sevens we have played in quite a few years against superb opposition. I know it seems tough to say that losing can be a positive step but a couple of years ago we would not have been able to compete with any of these teams, the fact that we are not just competing but dominating aspects of the game shows how far we have come and we are constantly moving the goal posts for the players in terms of level of competition, we are not simply losing against the same teams year after year, we are constantly playing in better level tournaments against better teams and we are learning with every second of every game. In this tournament we finally managed to play with patience and build toward our scores. The Trinidad game was a great example of this 19 – 7 down the guys simply dug deeper and showed great patience to come back and dominate all aspects of the match. Our two games against Zoo Ronin were also great affairs and show just how much we have improved. Yes Canada and Belgium got away from us but the learning curve in those games was massive and the players realize that mistakes at this level, any loss of concentration is attacked with deadly vision and accuracy by teams at this level. To give you an idea of the level of teams at this tournament in the Elite division Canada were knocked out by the Serevi select team by 6 tries and Belgium also failed to advance beyond the quarter final, it is a very tough level of Rugby. We continue to develop our players in Cayman. It is a tough ask as we need to travel and play a lot more to be able to learn against these sides. We now have a huge squad of Caymanian passport holding players as well as players who hold residency who can compete for us in non IOC sanctioned tournament. The funding required for the sevens program is massive at over $400,000 per year and this money has to be raised by the players, sponsors, donors and grants and money is in short supply with everyone so it is always a difficult task. Each player who went to the Vegas sevens paid over $750 personally for the experience and obviously this can only be managed by individuals once or maybe twice a year. The Union with it’s mass of programs and huge investment into Cayman schools and development simply cannot fund senior programs so these become pay to play and fundraising programs which severely limits the amount these guys get to play overseas. We simply don’t have massive funding despite popular belief every penny is earned and spent with great care and attention to ensure we get the best possible development and results. I am proud of what the guys in Vegas achieved and the respect they earned in the worlds rugby community. I am also very proud of what we are accomplishing in the schools and community programs, it is sometimes hard to justify spending so much on development and school programs but for every year we invest we see more Caymanians coming into the game and that leads to a performance related improvement on the pitch. This is the tenth year of heavy investment into our schools and community and the results and improvements speak for themselves. Five U19 regional championships won, Men and Women 7’s qualified for 2014 CACso games (Full Cayman Passport holders only) and our Men’s XV are 3rd in the region. That means that al of our teams who can compete in regional competition are all within the top five regionally with our U19 being number one five years out of six. I think that justifies our massive investment into Caymans youth. We have to thank Maples & Calder, Greenlight RE & Esso who have all seen how important this development is and made the decision to support us. The Help Us Help Esso program held last December will help to further fund elite level sevens coaches who will spend 90% of their time working in schools like John Gray and Clifton Hunter further developing the Rugby programs within our local youth.

Photo: Justin White takes contact against the Canada Maple Leafs with Paul Westin in Support two of Cayman’s Olympic hopefuls – Cayman Rugby

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