The World Rugby Classic may be one of the highlights of the Bermudian sporting calendar, but this weekend’s Ariel Re Sevens is perhaps even more important for the sport on the island.
And Bermuda Rugby’s aim is to get into the World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier, which takes place at the Hong Kong Sevens. The Ariel Re Sevens, in which the island’s finest young talent takes on international allcomers, takes place today and tomorrow at the National Sports Centre’s North Field, and the Bermudian union is in no doubt as to what its goal is.
“It’s hard to compare [it with the World Rugby Classic], but for us this weekend is about competing,” Bermuda Rugby youth development officer Patrick Calow said. “It’s about showcasing our youth talent and I guess what we share is that we’re welcoming teams from all over the world.
“But this is a college tournament, showcasing our younger guys towards a bigger goal, like Hong Kong, which is a possibility and not something that we’re just talking about.
Bermuda came sixth in the Rugby Americas North Men’s Sevens Championships in Trinidad and Tobago four months ago, the same position Jamaica finished in the 2015 tournament in North Carolina.
However, the Jamaicans finished third in Trinidad — booking their place in the 2017 World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier in Hong Kong next month.
“If I compare us to Jamaica, two years ago they weren’t very good,” Calow said.
“This year they came third in the regional tournament and they’re going to Hong Kong. I see that as massive inspiration. For us, that’s like going to the World Cup.”
This weekend’s event is also not just important for Bermudian rugby as a whole, but also for Bermudian rugby players as individuals, with the possibility of scholarships to American universities on the cards for the island’s talented young players.
“First and foremost, having an opportunity to play for your country on island is always a special thing against other teams coming in, where their families and friends can come down and watch them,” Calow said.
“Also, a lot of these universities will have some sort of scholarship opportunities available. And for us, it will hopefully act as a platform and give young guys that further motivation to get their academics together so that they can make themselves eligible for these sorts of opportunities.
“This weekend is a massive shop window for them. Interestingly, this year the coaches in the US reached out to us and said: ‘We want to have time to see them, meet some of the kids and can you facilitate that?’ For me, that’s one of our main objectives and something that’s really exciting.”
In his six years in his role, Calow has seen a steady increase in standards that will only help Bermuda increase their chances of reaching their Hong Kong goal.
“This is my sixth season in my role, and I’m seeing more young people that are transitioning from middle school, to high school, to senior rugby,” he said.
“So in high school, we’re not having to teach them how to catch and pass because they have never played before.
They have that foundation and they can build and build and build.
“I really feel like it’s just the start of it, because now that they have that foundation, having six years of rugby behind them instead of zero makes a great deal of difference.
“At middle and high-school level this year, instead of just of one team per high school, we’re now adding multiple age groups.
“So, essentially, this year, we’ve doubled the amount of teams. I guess that’s tangible progress.”
And Calow has help in the shape of Fiji sevens superstar Waisale Serevi’s Seattle-based Atavus organisation. Serevi is over for the week, along with United States XVs international Shalom Suniula, who also represented the US in sevens at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and Carly MacKinnon, an Atavus youth coach and three-times national champion in the US.
“The guys are here four times a year and typically It’s a four-day trip,” Calow explained.
“This one’s a little bit longer, with the tournament, but we are in constant contact with the guys, and that ranges from our youth players, to our women, to our men’s team.
“The impact that they’ve had is not just within the adult and youth level, but also within our coaches and really helping them to develop, so we’re super-grateful for the support we receive to help facilitate that and also for these guys for making the trip.”