Cayman touch rugby team grabs US championship

| 14/10/2015
Cayman News Service

The Cayman National Mixed Open Team: (L-R, back row) Marcus Cubillo, Jono Milne, Jo Ziegler, Dave Stringer, Morgan Shelver (Captain), Jyoti Choi, Ian Smith, Adam Huckle, Tiaan Nauta, Marcus Rowe and Andrew West. (L-R, front row) Vikki Piaso, Cliodhna Phelan, Evelin Sabillon Ritch, Chandra Friesen and Kim Smith

(Cayman Touch Association): Cayman’s Mixed Touch National team did the country proud and won the USA Touch National Championships 2015 in Orlando, Florida, this past weekend. Two years ago, the Cayman team lost nine of 11 games they played, but with hard work, sweat and probably a few tears they ripped up the form book and beat the best the US has to offer.

Playing in a round robin group of five teams, Cayman got to the final on the back of two wins and two draws. The closeness of some of the results points to the tightness of the competition.

In the final against Washington-based Galaxy DC, Cayman faced an adversary that was highly skilled, tenacious and superbly drilled. They are aptly called Galaxy as they are filled with US touch stars and even flew in “Mr. Touch”, a venerable Kiwi of such mastery and skill that he is the touch equivalent of Mr. Miyagi, Splinter and Yoda combined. When he has the ball, Galaxy DC invariably score.

In the earlier rounds, Cayman had drawn 8-8 with Galaxy DC so they had the inner confidence that they could match them on the scoreboard. But a final is different; every decision is critical, every error can prove fatal.

The team had ironed out earlier problems with their corner-and-shut defence and the plan was to defend hard, use arrow plays to drive into the heart of the DC defence. It was imperative that the attacks were performed with calmness under pressure and rapier-like speed on execution.

Breathless from the off, both teams went for the jugular with a high work rate to probe for an opening. One of Cayman’s main attributes is their teamwork. Each player has a defined role, be it a mid, a link or a wing and they operated in pods to ensure continuity to their set moves which at times seemed almost telepathic.

This allowed for continual rotation of the player roster and fresh legs on the park as often as possible. Captain Morgan Shelver was the driving force for all this but he was the first to acknowledge the contributions of all his teammates.

But for all Cayman’s efforts in the first half, they found themselves three tries down. At halftime, Cayman changed its defensive strategy to play shutdown defence from both sides as the Galaxy threat came up the middle from their two centres. By squeezing the play it became far harder for Galaxy to thread through the gaps.

As the second half progressed, the tide began to turn. Galaxy started to turn over the ball and Cayman’s attack grew in confidence and delivery. At this point, Jono Milne stepped forward. This quietly spoken Kiwi had a dream final, scoring five tries. In the dying moments of the game the score was levelled at 9-9.

And so it came to the drop-off. Each team started this sudden death period with five players and then after every two minutes a player was withdrawn until it was three-on-three. Cayman were rapid in their substitutions during the drop-off so that energy levels were kept high. They were handed a “get-out-of-jail-free” card when Galaxy shelled a winning pass over the try-line.

It was clear that Cayman’s superior fitness would be key. The tiring Galaxy team made the fatal mistake of having an extra player on the pitch, resulting in a penalty just inside their own half. Ian Smith, who had been outstanding all weekend, earning tournament MVP honours, has a mind sharper than an Obsidian blade and tapped a quick penalty before the Galaxy defenders could retreat the required five metres.

Calling offside, the referees played advantage and Smith raced through the gap like Hermes running for the last bus to Elysium. (Greek mythology 101 folks!) The dive over the line would have made Johnny Weissmuller proud and the rest of his team ran onto the field in sheer unadulterated joy.

After the match, Shelver was understandably a little lost for words: “I don’t think words can explain it as well as the scenes of us hugging, and jumping all over each other. It was a huge honour to be part of this group. Thanks team!”

Scott McCarty, president of the Cayman Touch Association, added, “This result is the culmination of 2½ years of hard work from a lot of people which makes it hugely satisfying. We attended the competition in 2013 and were well beaten. To win the competition two years later is a great achievement for which the players should be very proud.

“This result puts Cayman on the touch map and gives us a great foundation to build for the future. We’d love to thank Personnel 2000 for sponsoring us and helping making this trip possible.”

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