RUGBY FANS are expected to converge in their hundreds on the St Mary’s College Ground in St Clair today, where the national teams of 13 countries from North and Central America and the Caribbean will contest the 2016 Rugby Americas North (RAN) Sevens Championship.
Only on rare occasions are local fans blessed with the opportunity to witness, live and up close, some of the region’s better exponents of the game in action. Today and tomorrow, 14 men’s and 10 women’s seven-a-side teams will do battle on two pitches, in thirty-eight 14-minute contests, culminating in the finals on Sunday afternoon.
The teams and their supporters have been flying in all week; they are all staying at hotels in and around Port of Spain, in close proximity to the Queen’s Park Savannah, where they have been doing light training.
One factor virtually guarantees that the athletes will give their all in every match. Apart from trophies, medals and bragging rights, the men’s champions and runners-up and the champion women’s team will all automatically qualify to play in the 2017 edition of the world-acclaimed Hong Kong Sevens.
As hosts, Trinidad and Tobago will be making every effort to ensure that both their squads get to the final stages and give themselves a chance at exposure to the game at the highest international levels. The T&T men will expect their greatest challenges to come from tournament favourites the Canada Maple Leafs, as well as Mexico and the Cayman Islands. Among the women, the Canadians will start as overwhelming favourites, having won the bronze medals just months ago at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The T&T and Mexico women, having both played well enough to reach the Olympic Qualifying Repechage, are expected to provide the sternest tests for the Maple Leaf women.
RAN Tournament Director and General Manager Niall Brooks, speaking to the Express this week, was confident that fans will be thrilled by what they see on the weekend.
“We are improving the standard every year,” said the British Virgin Islands native. “Canada are representing the region on the World Sevens circuit and now, for the first time, our top women’s team will be allowed to compete in the Hong Kong Sevens.”
In keeping with those standards, among the 35-40 tournament officials will be four Canadian, four American and two Mexican referees who will be assessing and educating the local officials, game by game.
The RAN Sevens tournament is the third international rugby event to be staged in the country in the last four years. Play starts at 10 a,m, today and at 8.30 a.m. tomorrow.