Rugby World Cup Countdown
World Cup dreams begin in Caribbean sun
May 1, 2008
The 2008 NAWIRA Caribbean Championship captains pose with the Webb Ellis Cup in the Cayman Islands © Getty Images
It may only be a matter of months since South Africa beat England to clinch the Rugby World Cup on a memorable night in Paris but the countdown to the sport's next showpiece event is on following the start of the qualification process for RWC'11 in New Zealand.
The 2008 NAWIRA Caribbean Championship in the picturesque surroundings of the Cayman Islands marked the start of the road to Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand. The 112-match qualifying process is set to feature over 90 countries all of whom will be battling for one of just eight spots available in the tournament.
Those lucky qualifiers will join the sport's elite in New Zealand in three and a half years time for the tournament that will culminate with the crowning of the world champions at Auckland's Eden Park. The first eight countries to enter the fray - the Cayman Islands, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Jamaica, Bahamas, Bermuda, Barbados and Mexico - gathered on the shores of the Caribbean Sea dreaming of local bragging rights and taking a step nearer the big one.
Amongst those dreaming of a date with the sport's big names was Chris Way - a financial controller on any other week in the year, but this particular week he was making his debut as an international centre for Bermuda. Many of the Caribbean sides rely heavily on the ex-pat community for the core of their sides and Bermuda, placed 65th in the International Rugby Board's rankings heading into the tournament, are no exception.
"We've got a mixture of all sorts of guys," explained the 31-year-old Way who played a bit of amateur rugby back in the UK with Bristol Harlequins. "They're mostly accountants with the odd teacher, chef, student and mechanic."
Like many of his team mates it was a job that took Way to Bermuda from his west country roots in Bristol and he has since made his family home in the British overseas territory famed for its financial sector. He quickly embraced the domestic rugby scene in Bermuda where the first game recorded game took place as early as 1879. Qualification for the international ranks then came via the three-year-residency rule that is a requirement at all levels of the game.
Then it was a matter of catching the eye of coaches Lawrence Bird and Johann Oosthuizen - and the small matter of convincing his bosses to release him to play by granting 'representative leave'.
"There's quite a strong club scene back in Bermuda," added Way who doubles as secretary of Teachers RFC, "and in we probably play about 20 games each season in league and cup."
And with the Caribbean Championship the firm focus of their calendar the Bermuda Rugby Union made sure their side were well prepared. "The squad for the tournament was selected a couple of months before ago and we trained hard for the tournament from that point on. We were limited in terms of who we could test ourselves against and only had one trial match before we left but we were confident of a good showing all the same.
"We also had one of the smallest squads for the Championship with just 20 players travelling - and one of those broke his leg in the first game!"
Bermuda's Chris Way clears his lines in the clash with the Bahamas © Getty Images
Led by skipper Derek Hurdle the action began well for Bermuda with a 29-13 victory over Bahamas to progress to the cup semi-finals. Awaiting them were Guyana who accounted for Jamaica 10-3 with both games taking place at the Truman Bodden Stadium in Georgetown. With a three day break until their second game Way and his team mates experienced the dilemma faced by all elite sportsmen at a big tournament - what to do?
There were no ice baths or spacial awareness briefings for the cream of Bermudian rugby. "There was quite a bit of downtime," explains Way, "and I'm afraid to say we spent most of is lounging by the pool of our hotel. But we also got to play golf, rent jeeps and see the island, swim with the Stingrays at Stingray City and visit a great beach at Rum Point."
Such is the life of an international sportsman.
Sadly Bermuda's hopes of keeping their qualification hopes alive were ended against Guyana in their second outing - with their lower-ranked opponents running out 25-13 winners.
"The overall standard was very good," reflected Way, "the pace of the other teams was much quicker than what we were used to but we played to our strengths which was our big boys and we showed plenty of rugby know-how."
Trinidad & Tobago powered past Guyana 39-12 in the Championship decider to keep their World Cup dream alive and set up a clash with the winner of South America's Consur B tournament featuring Brazil, Paraguay, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru, later in 2008. Bermuda recovered their form to finish in style and claim the Plate with a 17-6 victory over Barbados.
Way and his side returned home, bruised and battered, but buoyed by their brush with the Webb Ellis Cup. "It was a great experience for me and the team," commented Way who picked up a broken nose for his troubles. "It was a real buzz to represent Bermuda in the qualifiers and to know we played a small part in the Rugby World Cup.
"It wasn't to be for us this time but we will be back, better and stronger and who knows we may upset a few sides on the way to Rugby World Cup 2015!"
Watch this space.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.