The future’s bright for sevens rugby in Bermuda, says Fijian legend Serevi
Fijian rugby great Waisale Serevi, Mike Berry, senior vice president of XL Group, and Bermuda sevens head coach Tom Healy took time during Serevi Rugby's recent visit to the island to talk about the development of the local game and future of sevens rugby.
Serevi and his team of coaches have spent the last few days visiting schools and coaching the men's and women's national team.
Waisale Serevi, Serevi Rugby
Can you describe how the programme to introduce the game to children across the island and work with young athletes is going so far?
Even in the first few visits we've had to Bermuda, we already realise how important this programme is for island youth, how eager rugby players here are to learn more, and how much fun it is for our team of coaches.
The school visits have been truly amazing, with hundreds of children learning the basics of our game, getting active, and running around on the fields. We hope that we can inspire many more children from all backgrounds to give the sport a try and see that there is more to rugby than the tackling — it's about teamwork, character building, and dedication.
During our skills camps, we've seen boys and girls really pick up the fundamentals of the game we are teaching them and be so enthusiastic for more.
Alongside our partners here on island, we're seeing the vision of creating that pipeline of players from beginner to high performance athlete start to take shape and we're all excited about the future of rugby in Bermuda.
On a personal level, our team of coaches has very much enjoyed the hospitality of the XL Group, Bermuda Rugby Football Union (BRFU), and the local schools. As many of our coaches, like me, are from island nations, we have a great connection with the local children and want to help them learn the game of rugby so it can help them in life.
What improvements have you seen in the men's and women's national teams since you started working with them earlier this year?
Since our initial trip in June we've seen vast improvements in the core skills and fitness on both the men's and women's side. It's obvious that the BRFU coaching staff is implementing the tactics we've shared and they are serious about growing the sport and improving the national teams' performance.
Our coaches had a chance to spend time with the men's sevens team when we met them at the Serevi RugbyTown Sevens tournament in Colorado this summer.
While the results weren't there yet against some of the best club teams in North America, I think the Bermudian team realised the level of fitness and commitment needed to compete on the international stage, which is such a big part of the sevens game.
On the women's side, there is a great deal of raw, athletic talent on the island, which is promising for the future of women's rugby in Bermuda. We've seen a passion and desire to improve like nowhere else when working with this team.
We all look forward to our ongoing visits over the next several years and expect that these teams will continue to improve and compete against other country's best players in the Caribbean, across North America, and on an international stage.
Mark Berry, senior vice president and managing director, XL Group
Why is XL supporting such a long-term programme and what do you expect to see as the results after the three-year programme?
Youth development through sports and education has been an important part of XL Group's Corporate Social Responsibility efforts in Bermuda for many years. We are honoured to team up with Seattle-based Serevi Rugby and the Bermuda Rugby Football Union to support this initiative which promises to develop future generations of Bermudian rugby players and strengthen the island's ranking in rugby worldwide. We look forward to seeing the efforts of this initiative come to fruition over time.
How does XL believe that a stronger and more vibrant rugby community on Bermuda will benefit the broader community?
Rugby, like many other sports, provides character building opportunities, such as teamwork, self-discipline and perseverance, and encourages an active lifestyle. The stronger and more vibrant the rugby community becomes, the greater the chance of exposing more young people to such opportunities which will ultimately benefit the island.
Tom Healy, head coach, Bermuda's sevens team
What has been the impact so far of having the Serevi coaches work with your team?
Serevi Rugby first visited Bermuda in 2012, and we realised immediately the opportunity we had in front of us, to have a world renowned sevens specialist and his coaching staff help Bermuda develop our sevens programme. We were extremely fortunate to have XL come on board and finance this opportunity, whereby we have recently signed a three-year partnership to have Serevi Rugby visit us roughly three times a year from 2013 to 2015.
Serevi Rugby has given us the framework by which we can build our programme and grow the game in Bermuda. The impact has been immediate, most visibly in our youth section where attendance at youth camps is continuously growing.
From a senior player point of view, we are seeing a bigger buy in to the sevens game, from both a player base and organisational point of view.
The Bermuda Rugby Football Union have altered our season layout and devoted more focus to developing a domestic sevens league. Our organisational evolvement is by no means there, but the foundations are beginning to take shape, thanks to the support Serevi Rugby and XL have given us.
We've heard you have had some interesting additions to the team with some crossover athletes joining the RFU — can you tell us a bit more about this?
Bermuda Rugby was once viewed as predominantly a white expat sport. Finally after years of effort by many, that culture is being eroded and more and more Bermudians from all backgrounds are taking up the game.
The Beyond Rugby programme has been instrumental in this capacity, and the involvement of Serevi Rugby has helped promote the rugby aspect. With more people talking about rugby, more people are getting curious and trying it out. This is now beginning to feed through to the senior teams.
Currently we have an MMA fighter (Corey Boyce) and an ex-Olympian sprinter (Xavier James) trying out for the sevens team, as we prepare for the Caribbean Championships in November.
In addition we have a basketballer who has come through the Beyond Rugby programme and immediately impressed. Keyanho Bean is new to the game and has already represented Bermuda at Under-16 and Under-19.
At only 17 years of age, he is now trying out for the Senior national sevens team and looks like a potential rugby star in the making. Athletes like these are very difficult to attract in a football and cricket dominated country, but the exposure rugby is now getting is generating a curiosity among a broader pool of athletes.
What are your goals for the near and long term future of BRFU? In terms of player development and team success?
Our ultimate goal is to win the World Cup of course, but we'd settle for Olympic gold. Bermuda are going to be very aggressive in setting our goals, as there is no reason we can't compete at the highest level, with the proper structures in place.
There is no one better out there who can guide a small island like Bermuda to success, than Serevi himself, having done that for his native Fiji by winning two world cups.
However, we are realists and know there is a long route between here and where we'd like to be down the line. Our immediate goal is to deepen the pool of sevens players on the island.
This will come about from our youth programme and its evolvement to now include a full time development officer — Patrick Calow. Patrick has already brought through a number of youth players into the senior side, so we are already seeing fruit from his efforts.
Serevi Rugby has also contributed to the growth of our youth division, by holding camps whenever they come to the island, where participation is growing each time they're held. This is at the very root of our long-term goals.
Once we have a bigger player base, the structures Serevi has helped put in place will start to come to the fore. In addition to providing player camps, Serevi Rugby also provides coaching courses, so that the coaches are also improving their expertise.
With this progression, Bermuda Rugby hopes to be at a level whereby we compete as part of the top four Caribbean countries within three years. Within five years, we hope to have won the Caribbean title at least once, and go on to represent Bermuda at the Hong Kong Sevens.