‘I’ll continue to play’ insists rugby sevens coach Healy
Bermuda scrum-half Tom Healy insists he has no intention of hanging up his boots after being appointed head coach of the national rugby sevens team.
Healy succeeds former coach Lawrence Bird, who has stepped down as both sevens and 15s coach due to work commitments, and will lead the team at next month's Caribbean Sevens Championships in Cayman Islands.
Despite his new coaching role, Healy said he plans to exert his influence on the pitch rather than from the touchline in Cayman.
“At heart I'm still a player and I want to hold on to the playing side of things for as long as I can,” said the ex-West Indies international.
“Coaching has always appealed to me, though, and I've done some coaching courses and been away to the Serevi Rugby camp in Seattle.
“It's a case of trying to lend the experience that I've picked up and sharing it with the team to help get the new Bermuda sevens programme off the ground.”
While Bermuda have undoubtedly been one of top Caribbean sides at conventional rugby in recent years, the Bermuda Rugby Football Union (BRFU) have recognised that the Island's sevens game has plenty of room for improvement.
In an effort to drive their sevens programme forward, the BRFU have reached out to Fijian sevens legend Waisale Serevi who travels the world with his renowned coaching clinic, Serevi Rugby.
They recently announced an agreement with Serevi Rugby to spearhead a three-year development programme to transform the sport across the Island.
“The sevens programme is in its infancy but we have a plan to build the programme and this is essentially our first year,” added Healy.
“We recently had Serevi and his coaches down here to do a mass training session with a youths and seniors and that very went well.”
Over the years Bermuda's 15s has heavily relied upon expats who tend to be seasoned veterans rather than sprightly youngsters, therefore not usually suited to the sprint and endurance-based sevens game.
Healy does, however, believe the players being producing at the junior level could excel at sevens, and have already began targeting ‘crossover' athletes more compatible to rugby's shortened version.
Former Olympic sprinter Xavier James and Mixed Martial Arts fighter Corey Boyce are among those to have been recruited for Bermuda's sevens team.
“Sevens rugby in Bermuda is an area that's been all but ignored as we've focused on the 15s and that's showed in our sevens results,” said Irishman Healy.
“The 15s have been reliant on expats and the success of that team ebbs and flows with guys coming and going from the Island.
“Expats tend to be a bit older and generally don't have an interest in the sevens programme as it's so cardiovascular demanding.
“But with the effort (the BRFU) have been putting in with the youngsters we have got a bunch of players coming through and these are the guys we're trying to expose to sevens.”
The Caribbean Championships, held from November 9-10, is the first round of the Rio 2016 Olympic qualifiers, where rugby sevens will make its Summer Games bow.
The top two teams will advance to the next stage of qualifiers, with USA and Canada hotly tipped to claim those places.
“We expect the USA and Canada to send their top sides to make sure they qualify,” said Healy. “The Olympics may be out or reach for Bermuda for the foreseeable future but our long-term goal is to compete with the bigger nations.”
The biggest stumbling block facing the development of the sevens programme is a lack of funding, according to Healy, who wants to see the Island's top youngsters competing overseas more regularly.
“We have little or no financial backing in terms of growing the competitiveness of rugby sevens in Bermuda,” he said. “In order to get the younger players exposed to sevens we need them to travel to overseas tournaments.
“Because (rugby sevens) is now an Olympic sport, the other Caribbean nations are receiving backing from their Olympic Associations and are regularly heading off to sevens circuits in the USA and Canada. We need some (financial) help because there's a sevens void when our youngsters turn 18 — there needs to be a support structure in place for them.”