Jamaica, the home of sprint sensation Usain Bolt, is renowned for its athletic prowess but the same cannot be said yet for its rugby reputation.
But hard work is going on behind the scenes to make sure the Caribbean Island, currently 80th in the IRB World Rankings, gets up to speed in Fifteens and Sevens at all levels of the Game.
Recent developments in Jamaica include the restructuring of the Union’s constitution, which has allowed player participation and development initiatives to thrive.
Jamaica now boasts a much stronger school and club competition system, and the implementation of youth rugby programmes, from tots upwards, have touched new communities such as St Mary Parish, in the north-east of Jamaica.
The requirement that each Club fields a Women’s Sevens team has greatly improved female playing numbers, as has the introduction of the G5 Sevens Series for both sexes.
Funding from the IRB has enabled the JRFU to secure and equip an office as well as hiring an administrative and development officer.
Phillips sails in
An unexpected but most welcome helping hand has come too from IRB Rugby Sevens Player of the Year 2009 Ollie Phillips.
Phillips recently conducted a skills-based training session for Under 19 and national team players while the Clipper 2013/14 Round the World Yacht Race, which he is competing in, was on a stopover in Jamaica.
“As a former England captain, from the motherland of rugby, Ollie clearly knows the sport inside out and was able to teach us some valuable lessons. It meant a lot to us to have a man of Ollie’s reputation and achievements to come and inspire us,” said Keith Noel, Chairman of the Jamaican Rugby Football Union.
“These players see themselves as the core of a group that will eventually take us to the Olympics so whatever tips he can give them, I know they appreciate it.”
Alan Beckford, Director of the Jamaican Olympic Association, added: “The Jamaica Olympic Association hopes to have as many sports as possible represented at the highest level. We currently participate in approximately six sports at the Olympics and rugby is certainly one of the sports we hope to increase that number with.
“Rugby in Jamaica is a budding sport. The players are doing very well and we hope to make it to the next level and players like Ollie who are at the top can only inspire us to reach that level.
"We are hoping that through our development programme that if not Rio 2016, by Tokyo 2020 the programme will be developed enough for us to qualify for the Olympics. We would love for Ollie to come back to Jamaica and help continue to inspire us in this goal.”
Phillips has his own Olympic dream. While at sea the 31-year-old continues his recovery from injury but hopes to return to the England Sevens team and ultimately play for Team GB in the 2016 Olympic Games.
For now, though, Phillips is enjoying the moment as a rugby missionary, Jamaica being just one of many different ports of call during 10 months of sailing.
“It has been a massive honour for me to go and see how rugby is touching the globe while visiting countries on the race,” said Phillips. “You don’t always get to see how it is expanding round the world when you are playing in a league. It is an honour and privilege to see my sport from a different perspective while on the Clipper Race.
“Every activation or coaching session we do is slightly different in each port and adds value to what this race is all about, bringing international sporting communities together through a common ground. These activities also act as a welcome release and a change of scenery which makes the race even better for me.”
For more information on the Clipper Race, visit www.clipperroundtheworld.com