The sevens competition in the Cayman Islands offers a chance to step closer to Olympic qualification
Former Chiefs wing Matt Jess embarks on Caribbean adventure with St Lucia women
A whirlwind set of events has sent former Exeter Chiefs wing Matt Jess out to the Cayman Islands to help St Lucia women’s sevens push for an Olympic dream this weekend.
This side will compete in the 2019 RF Group RAN Sevens in Grand Cayman over Saturday and Sunday, with the top two teams in the competition being sent to compete for a spot in the 2020 Summer Olympic Games at next year’s global repechage.
Asked how this all came about, Jess proclaims “Oh mate!” just before boarding a flight to the Caribbean. He goes on to explain his introduction: “I was sat at home in the kitchen, planning a few local projects, and I got a call from (ex-Chiefs lock) Chris Bentley.
“He said their was a former sponsor of Exeter– Simon and Mo from BoulterBowen – who had been on holiday in St Lucia and got chatting to this group of girls. They found out they played for St Lucia women.
“They looked into getting some help out there (for the team). They have a plan in place there, but they wanted a bit more experience and someone to go in there and show them what to do.
“Within three hours of talking to them I got a plane ticket emailed through from Simon and Mo!
“I went over to St Lucia for five days and did three sessions with the girls, which was cracking. They were a really good bunch. It grounded me a bit – what we have over here compared to what they have over there is on a completely different scale – but I had an unbelievable time.”
Then he was asked out of the blue if he would like to lead the side to the big meet this weekend. He couldn’t say no.
Jess, who has recently signed up as an assistant coach with Cornish Pirates and who still turns out occasionally for Taunton Titans in National 2 South, admits that he had very little prior knowledge of Caribbean rugby, but he has been impressed with the desire and willingness to attack and how his job is now to add some finer skills to their play, adding: “If you can bolt on certain skillsets – drawing the defender and putting someone away – automatically you will get a very, very destructive team. If they continue to work on their skillsets, I think they’ll be a hell of a force, not only in the Caribbean but also around the world.”
Jess acknowledges that the competition over the weekend should be stiff and he is aware others are rated higher. And yet he is excited about the team’s future.
“Our team manager was telling me about the favourites,” he says. “But I’m going to talk to them and say, ‘you don’t lose before a game is finished.’ We’re not just turning up to play.
“Favourites can be favourites, underdogs can be underdogs but I want them to go in with the hunger and play with their heart and the results will look after themselves.
“It will be tough for the girls over the two days, but they have a good enough squad to set a good precedent. And the thing is, they went to Guadalupe a couple of months back and tore teams to shreds. So hopefully they can really push on from that.”
With rugby, life can take unexpected turns. Some of those turns may just drop you in the Caribbean.