Local rugby buoyed by CAC heroics
OVER the years, Jamaica have always been one of the top rugby playing nations in the Caribbean in both male and female divisions.
They are accustomed to being among the top two to three teams in the region and had a splendid run during the early 2000s when they were NAWIRA regional champions, or one of the runners-up.
However, according to the CEO of the sport's local governing, Ann Shirley, "financial problems and internal struggles beset the organisation in recent years, and last year the men's team had its worst showing -- placing fifth in the regional tournament in Mexico".
"The women did not enter the regional competitions during 2008 and 2009, and with the death of Jacob Thompson and the change in the administration, many doubted the future direction of the programme," Shirley said.
"What the team's performances in Guyana during the CAC Games and the Nacra Sevens competitions have done is to show the intent of the new team, and the young persons are responding to our vision -- they're buying into the fact that the new team at the Jamaica Rugby Union (JRU) is not just interested in being one of the best teams in the Caribbean region, but we want to become one of the best teams in the world. This will not be an easy process, but we believe that it is possible," she added.
The JRU's hope to make this possible is an all-out drive to strengthen the club structure, as was explained by chairman Leon Noel.
"I really think the national team has to be built off the club structure. We had a fairly vibrant club structure in the past. It sort of crumbled in the last few years (as) we did not have as many clubs as we should as the clubs were as not well organised as they should be.
"But we had a number of good players and we kept them together, built the national side and they have done very well. To maintain that, we need to have the club structure flourishing once again because it is from the club structure that people are going to rise into the national team.
"We have a fairly good schoolboys rugby tournament at present, but you cannot jump straight from schoolboy to the national team. You need the clubs to be operating vibrant once more and much more than they used to be because there is where we're going to find the players to maintain and supplement national team strength," he said.
The teams, he said, "did well at the Nacra and CAC Games, but in terms of talent, they should have won the competitions".
"The facilities we do not have, but if we had a little more of them than we have at the moment, I believe that they would have won.
"We're working towards getting better training facilities and the people to replace our present crop of players when they begin to get on in age," he said.
"When players get injured we need to have ample replacements; we just can't only have a squad of 20 to 25 players who are very good. We must have 100 people to be able draw from over the years as long as top-class rugby goes on," Noel explained.
With the JRU's inherent vision to move Jamaican rugby to the forefront of world play, Guyana, Shirley emphasised, "represents the start of the dream -- our goal is to have Jamaica represented in the Rio Olympics in 2016 when rugby will be played for the first time in the Olympics.
"Hence, you'll hear us talking about the "RIO2016" campaign -- this is the road map that we're currently developing on the road to the Rio Olympics, and the steps that will be involved in achieving that goal. And the young persons are now buying into that dream," Shirley said.