February 6, 2023

Overmatched Bermuda face relegation decider: Bermuda 3 Cayman Islands 24

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rglogo1-1.gif&LogoXPos=0&LogoYPos=290&maxw=630&maxh=350By Josh Ball From The Royal Gazette

“They Cayman, they saw, and they conquered” — and now Bermuda are staring relegation square in the face.

When Roedolf van der Westhuizen, the Bermuda coach, and his team were discussing how yesterday’s NACRA Men’s Championship game was going to go, none of what transpired is likely to have been in the game plan.

Not the poor kicking, not the poor decision-making, not the lack of cutting edge and certainly not the bit where they gifted their opponents two easy tries.

In fact, Van der Westhuizen’s side were not so much conquered by Cayman Islands, as willing participants in their own downfall.

The visiting side’s first try after only five minutes was probably one of the easiest that Keswick Wright, the Cayman wing, will score.

A high ball into the Bermuda 22 should have presented few problems. Unfortunately for Bermuda, Dan Cole, the full back, left it to Rich Cumbers, the wing, who thought that Tom Healy, the scrum half, was going to deal with it.

As it turned out, none of them did much except watch as the ball bounced straight into the arms of Wright, who scampered in under the posts from five yards out. Marco du Plessis slotted over the conversion and Cayman had a lead that they would never lose.

This is not to say that they should not have done so.

Bermuda had 80 per cent of the possession in the first half, but scored fewer than half the points — and it was entirely of their own doing. Putting down a solid foundation is one thing; failing to build on it is quite something else.

In the first half, Bermuda won the battle up front, helped by the loss of Chris Kennedy, the Cayman flanker, who pulled his hamstring early on, some bone-shuddering hits from Tashon Desilva, the lock, and a dominating Dave Rourke-inspired lineout, from where they stole Cayman ball on several occasions.

However, when they created space from these positions, they were invariably let down by the final pass. Cole and his fellow backs generally hit their lines well, but too often they dropped the ball, or the final pass was were they had been, and not where they were going. The backs were not solely to blame; to a man, the Bermuda side struggled going forward.

Having pushed Cayman back inside their own 22 as the half drew to a close, Bermuda finally looked like they might add to Tommy Edwards’s seventeenth-minute penalty and an attacking lineout gave them the opportunity to do so. Rourke, the lock, collected the ball and set up the drive on the left side of the field.

After sucking in the Cayman defence, the backs spread the ball to the right and Bermuda laid siege to the visiting side’ line. Recycling the ball, the forwards inched ever closer to a first try, until Mike Williams, the hooker, knocked on when only inches short.

They had another chance moments later when a brutal Desilva hit turned Bermuda defence into attack, and the opportunity for another lineout inside the Cayman 22. This time Thomas Greenslade overthrew everyone and the opportunity was gone.

Still, Van der Westhuizen’s men could have gone in only a point behind at the break, but Edwards missed a kickable penalty goal on the stroke of half-time.

The second half was all Cayman. Brad Cowdroy, the coach, juggled his pack around to give the excellent Richard Lewis, the captain and No 8, some support at the breakdown, while they were helped also by the absence of Desilva, who gave himself concussion during one of his big hits, and Bermuda’s inability to capitalise on any possession they had.

Even with a man advantage, when Dan Bond, the Cayman lock, was sent to the sin-bin ten minutes into the second half for collapsing a maul, Bermuda could not break through.

The knock-ons, poor passing and panic under the high ball plagued Bermuda during that time. Cayman had their own issues, not least with the kicking of Du Plessis, but they were not made to pay for their mistakes.

Cayman’s second try on the hour, moments after Bond’s return to the pitch, was just as much of a gift as the first. An attacking lineout from five yards out resulted in Yohannes Regnard peeling to the blind-side, catching Bermuda’s defence cold, with only Greenslade making a half-hearted attempt to prevent the score.

At 12-3 down, Bermuda might still have rescued the situation, but the introduction to the Cayman front row of Ben McDonald, as a replacement for Jacob McAdam, the prop, moved the balance of power up front.

McDonald, and Philip Fourie, who was immense at the breakdown for Cayman, had their way with Bermuda, who even when they kept the ball at their own scrum, were marched five or six yards backward in the process.

Combined with the arrival of Morgan Hayward at fly half, who gave Cayman extra impetus going forward, the game slipped farther and farther from Bermuda’s grasp.

Penalised after a rolling maul had driven them back to within ten metres of their own tryline, Hayward slotted over the first of his four penalty goals to extend the lead to 15-3.

Regular three-pointers kept the scoreboard ticking over and the 21-point gap by the end was a fair reflection of Cayman’s dominance against a Bermuda side, who finished with 14 men when Paul Canfield, a late replacement for Rourke, was sent to the sin-bin for repeatedly infringing at the breakdown.

For Cayman, next week’s match against USA South now becomes a battle for first place in the North Championship. Bermuda, meanwhile, await the winners of the North Zone Cup, likely to be Mexico, who beat them 56-9 just a couple of months ago, for a relegation decider.

Scorers: Bermuda: Penalty goal: Edwards (17min). Cayman Islands: Tries: Wright (5), Regnard (61). Conversion: Du Plessis (6). Penalty goals: Hayward 4 (73, 76, 80+1, 80+5).

Scoring sequence (Bermuda first): 0-5, 0-7, 3-7 (half-time), 3-12, 3-15, 3-18, 3-21, 3-24.

Bermuda: D Cole; R Cumbers, T Edwards, P Davis, N Zuill (rep: P Graham, 79); P Hall (rep: G Lamprecht, 79), T Healy; P Dobinson (rep: E Barnes, 79), M Williams (rep: D Richardson, 52), D Archibald (rep: J Cedenio, 65), D Rourke (rep: P Canfield, 73: sin-bin: 80+3), T Desilva (rep: A Richards, 41), B Gibson, T Greenslade, P Dunkerley.

Cayman Islands: C Palmer; K Wright (rep: C Parker, 73), J Murphy, A Keenan (rep: M Hayward, 53), J Clark; M Du Plessis, J Brown; J McAdam (rep: B McDonald, 65), J Scarff, P Fourie, D Bond (sin-bin: 49-59), Y Regnard (rep: M Soto 29-39), C Kennedy (rep: B Blair, 10: rep: M Soto, 71), E Westin (rep: P Westin, 60), R Lewis.

Referee: K Lozada (Canada).

PHOTO: Dan Cole, the Bermuda full back, pulls down Morgan Hayward near the Bermuda tryline (Photograph by Nicola Muirhead)

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