The Bermuda women’s sevens rugby team were considering not entering the Ariel Re Bermuda International Rugby Sevens tournament just a week before they finished runners-up at the North Field last weekend.
Coach Keith Hodgkins said that the players “showed a lot of heart and courage” in losing the final by only two points, just four months after struggling at the Rugby Americas North Women’s Sevens in Mexico, where they finished bottom of the seven-team standings after suffering several heavy defeats.
However, they turned things around in style, only losing 19-17 to the American International College Yellow Jackets in the final last Saturday.
“It was a really close game,” Hodgkins said. “The girls showed a lot of heart and courage. And we said, against that big team they had to bring a fight to them, and they did it. And if it wasn’t for a couple of dropped balls and one missed tackle, Bermuda could have won that final.
“I’m really pleased. A week ago we were thinking about not even entering a team and at the last minute all the girls pulled themselves together and said they wanted to enter and over the tournament, we’ve developed some camaraderie and teamwork.
“They were really excited, even though they lost that final, about how well they did.
“They had a tough tournament in Mexico. The RAN tournament is a level above us at the moment and so they didn’t want to play rugby. Six weeks ago, I was asked if I would help bring this team along and it’s been slow going, but we’ve been adding numbers to every training session and if we get all those girls out on a weekly basis and get their fitness up, we can compete.”
Hodgkins said that the performance has given the Bermudian women’s game a much-needed boost.
“We were a little worried that if we didn’t do well, it would have really affected Bermuda women’s rugby negatively,” Hodgkins said. “But if anything it’s quite the opposite. They are all now talking about getting together, training once a week and they have to pick and choose tournaments we can compete at and be successful.
“It’s going to take a couple of years to build a programme where we can go to RAN and compete with some of these teams who are ahead of us by a few years.”
Bermuda have a blend of youth and experience that have enormous potential, according to Hodgkins.
“Some of the standout players are some of the youngsters,” he said. “Najee’ Pitt-Clarke was fantastic, tackled well and scored a bunch of tries in the first game. There’s a young girl, Keonte White, who showed up training just before the tournament and she can tackle like you would not believe and she’s half the size of everybody else.
“Some of the seniors played well. Mika Tomita played well at stand-off. Lauren Rothwell had a fantastic game in the final, making tackles and scoring a try in the corner. As a coach I hate to pick out individual players, because as a team they played really, really well.”
The team prepared for the tournament against Warwick Academy’s under-16 boys’ side. Hodgkins and Sean Field-Lament, the Bermuda Rugby president, are keen to add more competion for women’s rugby.
“They need to play games,” Hodgkins said. “What they do right now, is they play against my Warwick Academy under-16 boys team, which is perfect. The boys are a little bit bigger than them, but it gets the girls used to the physical size.
“Otherwise, we have no competition and that’s one of the challenges. We need to bring more teams down and we need to find sponsors who are willing to put money in to send our girls away to play more games. Today, they played against a girls’ team who are much bigger than them.
“One thing we are working on is, we’ve got Warwick Academy girls now, we’ve got Saltus girls and we’re trying to get a couple of the other girls.
“Some of these girls are playing touch, but they’ve shown that they’re keen to try the contact and we will continue to build at that 16-17-year-old level then. But we need a critical mass to play competition and right now we’ve got 14 girls who play contact rugby, so we can’t compete, so that’s why we train against the boys under-16s.”
Field-Lament added: “We’re in a development phase of rugby for women. We started with touch rugby, which is very much established, but now we want to work towards getting them into tackle rugby, because that’s where the Olympics are, that’s where the Commonwealth Games are.
“The weekend was a massive, massive step forward for women’s rugby and well done to Keith, it’s amazing what he’s done with the programme.
“We went down to Mexico and the experience was learning, it wasn’t entirely positive, but this has been very positive. It just shows the opportunity the sport has to provide for these kids is amazing.
“We sent a team down to the Youth Commonwealth Games, and they’re under-16s, and so we’re building towards the contact rugby.
The thing I want to emphasise is that I’m really proud of the effort the ladies put out there.
The thing that I’ve seen consistently is that if you get good coaching, you get results.”