For those unfamiliar with the development of rugby in the TCI, a brief history:
As anybody who knows these islands will testify, grass is a rare luxury and so non contact ‘touch’ rugby prevailed as the preferred version of the game for many years. Originally played on the parade grounds of Grand Turk, ‘touch’ moved onto the equally unforgiving surface of the old Ballpark on Provo, where until the construction of the new Astroturf pitch, the first rule of rugby was “don’t fall over on the ballpark” – As any overzealous new recruit found out, injuries came easily and healed slowly…!
Consequently, any rugby enthusiast eager for the full contact of the game was forced to look overseas. Following our first tour to Tamarac, FL in the late ’90s the TCIRFU had established a tradition of touring to Nassau, the Dominican Republic, Carib 7’s in Trinidad, CANAM (2008), Ruggerfest (2009), Savannah St Paddys Day (2010), Four Leaf 15’s (2011), and the NAWIRA 7’s in recent years. Having won some and lost more, one of the more notable achievements was being voted “Most Sociable Team” in Trinidad, perhaps reflecting what the game is all about.
Having formed an official rugby union in 2001, TCIRFU is now recognized by NACRA (North American Caribbean Rugby Association) as an affiliate member and we have been able to participate in the regional international competitions. The development of rugby in the TCI relies on our ability to attract young local islanders to the sport and every one of our overseas tours has included sponsorship for 3-4 local T&C Islanders to travel and play. This active development spearheaded by the tireless President, Keith Burant, culminated in the selection of 6 local junior players in the inaurgual Captain vs Presidents match held in June 2011
We currently have an annual home and away series with the Bahamas Rugby Union, competing for The Conch Cup. This has been a wonderful success with both unions sending teams to Providenciales and Nassau. The inaugural match held in Provo was a great game with the Flamingo’s claiming first bragging rights. The Bahamians won back the Cup in Feb 2008 in Nassau, and the TCIRFU is looking at reclaiming the trophy in the next match in Provo.
This ongoing development has continued with the establishment of a junior rugby development program in the island, headed initially by James Hamilton, and more recently by Sean O’Neill and Dorel Williams (who was himself a product of this program). This has seen numerous youngsters introduced to the sport through school contact, or at the Saturday morning sessions firstly at the beach and more recently at Meridian Field. Increasing numbers of juniors are now graduating to competition with the senior players, and the future looks strong as these stars of tomorrow begin to make their presence known.
Our other main focus for the development of the game is the construction of our own rugby pitch. Meridian Field opened in March of 2011 on 3 acres of land in Grace Bay Village, the site for which was generously donated by Mr Frank Coggins. This modern facility includes an extenisive underground irrigation system, a 20,000 gallon water cistern, field lights and the beginnings of a clubhouse. As a non-profit organization, without the benefit of external funding TCIRFU has raised and invested in excess of $150,000 in the pitch to date in addition significant donations of time and equipment from several local contractors. This massive undertaking took nearly 10 years to come to fruition but the TCIRFU is now the proud owners of one of the premier grassed rugby facilities in the Carribean.
With their new home open for play, and the player base developing each week, rugby is looking to go from strength to strength in the TCI. Touring sides have taken advantage of this with the Bayonne Bombers following up on their first visit in 2006, with a follow-up tour in March 2011.
The idyllic setting that is TCI is also attracting international Rugby stars. In 2009 the TCIRFU held its first Presidents Dinner where they invited prominent British Lion Dewi Morris down to speak and train with the players. This incredibly successful endeavour has become an annual event and so far current All Black Ali Williams, former British and Irish Lions Paul Wallace, Scott Hastings and Colin Charvis have followed in Dewi’s footsteps and enjoyed a week in the sun courtesy of the TCIRFU. Most recently current French Captain Thierry Dusautoir also dropped in to vist and enjoyed a run with the local players.
In early 2012 the TCIRFU retained the services of a full-time rugby development officer. Jamie Tait came onboard as a fulltime officer dedicated to the advancing the interests of the club and developing the game of rugby here in the TCI. Jamie brought a wealth of rugby and coaching experience with him having played previously in the UK, NZ and France. He worked closely with the local education system to get rugby into the P.E. curriculum as well as coordinating the day to day activities of the union. Jamie has now moved on to France to continue his coaching career and the TCIRFU is in the process of hiring a replacement RDO.
In January 2013 the TCI was invited to compete in the 2013 NACRA Championships. Being drawn to host regional powerhouse Jamaica, they played in front of a massive home crowd and put up a valiant fight in going down to a stronger and faster Jamaican team. A big but invaluable learning experience for the players.
In July of 2013 the TCIRFU U19 side competed in the NACRA Under 19 Championships, winning the trophy division in Trinidad & Tobago. This huge achievement, in their first international outing, was a vindication of the efforts the union has put into focusing on the development of junior rugby over the last ten or so years.
In November of 2013 the TCIRFU is sending a mens and womens team to compete in the NACRA 2013 Sevens Championships in the Cayman Islands – a first for the womens side.