The Barbados Under-19 Rugby Squad recently returned home after an eye-opening learning experience in the North America Caribbean Rugby Association’s Under-19 Tournament staged in Mexico City, Mexico.
The 23-man squad, which was accompanied by coaches Dennis Hargreaves and Peter Bynoe and manager Kathie Daniel, were fortunate to have a match schedule that allowed them a couple of days to acclimatize to the altitude and weather before they actually competed.
The original list of participating teams had to be altered at very short notice when Jamaica were unable to field a team.
To keep the format of the tournament congruent, a second team from Mexico (the Aztecas) was added, comprising players from around the country who had not made the national squad. The Aztecas had only three days to prepare and practice together as a team.
The first Barbados game, against the host team, Mexico, took place at the IPN Stadium and was an early baptism. Mexico jumped out to an early lead, with an early try by full-back Frederico Cesneros. He went on to score several more points and at half-time the lead was 13-0 in favour of Mexico.
Further tries from Rigel Galindo and Johnny Aboullahad (and yet another conversion from Cesneros) made the full time score 25-0.Despite the thrashing there were notable tackles by Barbados’ Mikyle Walcott and some powerful running by Nick Daniel but the visitors failed to make an impact on the scoreboard. The young Barbadians, though, made the locals fight for every point.
The next game for Barbados was against defending champions Cayman Islands and they received a sound 60-0 beating by a much more experienced team. Cayman’s danger man Morgan Haywood scored 25 points, comprising two tries, a penalty and six conversions. His brother William Haywood, Aaron Kennedy, Tom Mann, Sebastian Legras, Angel Hawkins and Alex Pineau also scored.
On the Barbados side, Michael “Big Mike” Phillips, was relentless in his attack, especially during the second half, bringing speed and physicality to play against the Cayman’s machine. Barbados suffered a key injury just before the start of this match, with flanker Shackeel Griffith going down to an ankle injury at the side of the pitch, miniutes before kick-off. This meant the loss of a key player in the line-outs which had a very demoralizing effect on the entire squad.
By this stage of the tournament, the top spots had been decided, with defending champions Cayman facing off against Trinidad & Tobago in the final, Bermuda taking on Mexico for third and fourth places, and Barbados coming up against Aztecas, with both teams striving to avoid the dreaded “wooden spoons” – last place.
Conditions on the final day of the competition were overcast, with grey fog shrouding the mountains surrounding Mexico City. But the rugby was electrifying. Barbados came out of the gates with enthusiasm and soon jumped out to a commanding 17-0 halftime lead. Again, “Big Mike” Phillips, ably assisted by rookie Omar “Drogba” James, played a huge part in the action. Scrum half Mikyle Walcott earned himself the nickname “Honey Badger” with his athletic and determined play. Brandon Walcott also displayed impressive running and kicking skills, with his right boot kicking two conversions and a penalty. Che Gaskin and Shayne Inniss (both playing in their last U-19 international) also gave the home team much to think about.
The second half saw a determined Aztecas assault earn them 12 points, with penalties from Ricardo Herrejn causing some anxiety among the Bajans. However they held on to their advantage with the full-time score reading 17-12.
In the other matches, Cayman Islands ably defended their title 20-10 against a determined Trinidad and Tobago attack, while Mexico defeated Bermuda 18-10.
The Barbadian coaches were philosophical about the team’s performance, pointing out their relative youth, and lack of game experience, especially compared to Cayman Islands.
“It’s easy to say we should have done better,” said manager Kathie Daniel, “but we did what we could on the day, and I know that the players have learned a lot from the exposure and the experience. We were the youngest team on tour. I don’t think we have anything to be ashamed of. I hope this team sticks together, because next year, we will give the rest of the region something to think about.”