Water Sports

Sporting Times: TCI Rugby Football Union

rugbyStory and Photos by Claire Stevens

Rugby is a hard-hitting game of endurance and grit. Surging adrenaline gives energy-devoured players the power and pace they need to play on. The game famed for the friendships and respect that emerge from tough encounters has firmly established itself here in the Turks & Caicos Islands. People from different backgrounds and of different ages are united in pursuing the great game. Some may go on to play for their nation or the West Indies. Sport offers all kinds of dreams but no barriers.

Historically, rugby is an old game. It is alleged to have been born in England in 1823 when 16 year old William Webb Ellis, disregarding his school’s version of football, took the ball in his arms and ran with it. By the 1840s, running with the ball had become the norm, and as the boys left “Rugby School,” they took the game with them. Soon, clubs sprang up throughout Great Britain and its colonies. The “Rugby Football Union” was founded in 1871 to bring together the many versions of the rugby-type game and the International Rugby Board (IRB) was founded in 1886 to become the world-governing and law-making body for the game of “Rugby Union.”

Today, rugby is played in more than 100 countries with IRB membership of 93 National Unions and one Regional Association. The Turks & Caicos Islands Rugby Football Club has just become a National Union, joining countries such as the Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.

In the early years, the game went through a transition from a 20-a-side game to fifteens. Today it is played as a 15-a-side game in the main, with the 7-a-side game a popular alternative. Rugby was an amateur sport until 1995. Now, players can be remunerated and, if good enough, become full-time professionals.

There are plenty of high profile competitions. The Rugby World Cup, first staged in 1987 and contested every four years, is one of the world’s top sporting competitions behind the Olympics and FIFA World Cup Football. The Rugby World Cup is clearly a great spectacle as a 15-a-side game, but the Rugby World Cup Sevens is perhaps more worthy of note to a small nation like ours. First staged in 1993 and contested every four years, it involves many countries worldwide. The tiny island nation of Fiji won in 1997 and is a very strong nation to be reckoned with when it comes to Rugby Sevens. The latest and most ambitious addition to the international rugby scene is the IRB World Sevens Series providing a winner on an annual basis. The West Indies entered a team for the first time this year.

The last Rugby World Cup attained a TV audience of 3.1 billion. This high figure represents many new recruits to the sport and they need not feel inexpert. In any rugby club, there is disparity of player ability, experience and age. Whatever a club’s facilities or make up, the variations of the game mean fitness training and competition can be attained.

The Turks & Caicos Islands Rugby Football Union (TCIRFU), based in Providenciales, has had little in the way of facilities over the years. Only through local business sponsorship and assistance from individuals has the club come so far. From 1991, a small core group of hardened rugby enthusiasts played weekly touch rugby at the Ball Park in downtown Providenciales. Coached by Simon Taylor for the last 18 months, the “club,” now an International Rugby Union, wants to see rugby develop throughout the Turks & Caicos Islands in order to create a first class national team.

Where better to introduce the discipline and camaraderie that comes with the game of rugby than with children? Five to ten year olds are invited to attend sessions run by Peter Savory every other Sunday on Grace Bay Beach. Playing the game is a fun way for youngsters to learn the basics of rules and tactics.

Children here in the Islands have some great players to follow. In the last year, the TCIRFU has inspired all who follow them by sending teams to the Carib Trinidad & Tobago Sevens, the Kalik Sevens in the Bahamas, and their first international fixture playing the Dominican Republic’s national team at 15-a-side rugby. Amongst these great games, the 20-10 victory against the Dominican Republic’s first choice national team gave players and supporters a particularly huge feeling of achievement.

Assembling a full 15-side team to play in Santo Domingo was a measure of the fledgling TCIRFU’s determination to introduce its members and supporters to an international full contact game. The “club” may not have had the numbers to put together an experienced side, but it had the necessary elements of power in its forwards, effective tackling, accurate passing, and pace from its backs. Amidst the physically hard-hitting tackles the conviction of new recruits during the Dominican Republic Tour was impressive. Another in the long line of William Webb Ellis followers, Dorell Williams of the British West Indies Collegiate used his pace to gain a vital try and the lead before the half-time call, and did the very same in the second half.

Rugby in the Islands is being further developed through tournaments at home. Whether Sevens-touch or 5-a-side full contact rugby, from time to time the “club” invites all interested parties to try the game by fielding a team, through their work, school or friends. At these tournaments, the Best New Player’s Award is on offer. New talent will be the TCIRFU’s future and playing the game for the first time in a recent Stella Artois 5-a-side Contact Beach Rugby Tournament was best newcomer Levardo Turbot (“Willow”). Not long after Dorell Williams returned from the Dominican Republic Tour fired up about the tough game, Dorell, Willow and friends were to be seen in one of the local restaurants watching the relentlessly flowing full contact game on TV. More familiar with American football, the absence of customary pads and stops was viewed in awe. This novice side, coached by Keith Burant, took third place at the tournament after a succession of crunching games in the heat of the day on unforgiving sand . . . and they didn’t stop smiling!

The TCIRFU is currently fund-raising to build a rugby pitch and clubhouse on land in Providenciales, generously donated by Frank Coggins. The “club” wants to see rugby teams emerging throughout the Turks & Caicos Islands. Ongoing fundraising is needed to give those teams the opportunity to visit Providenciales to play matches on a grass pitch. With the development of a national side and a good center for play, teams from other countries will be attracted to visit us. Sport is more than just exercise for a developing nation like ours. It provides the opportunity to unite our Islands and promote our country abroad. Whether your interest is playing, fundraising or spectating, enquiries about the “club” may be directed to Keith D. Burant, Public Relations Officer, TCIRFU.

Special thanks go again to Frank Coggins for his donation of land to be used for a rugby pitch. The “club” also wishes to thank its generous sponsors: IGA Supermarket, Discount Liquors and Hey Joseƕs Caribbean Cantina for supporting fund-raising events and supplying tour shirts over the last year. Thanks also go to Banana Boat Caribbean Grill, Club Med Turkoise, Contractors Equipment & Supplies, Marvin Johnson, Portia Cox, Dempsey & Co., Lyndon Gardiner and Inter Island Airways Ltd., Lattitudes Tavern & Grill, Turks Head Brewing, TCIFA, TC Trading, and the Rugby Football Clubs of Trinidad, Nassau and Dominican Republic for their generous assistance.

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