Coach Jamie Barnwell aiming high with Bermuda sevens
Jamie Barnwell has challenged his Bermuda sevens side to reach the lofty ambition of qualifying for the Commonwealth Games and prestigious Hong Kong Sevens tournament as the team set out to reach their highest peak yet.
Having beaten Guadeloupe 33-10 in the Rugby Americas North Championship final in September of 2018 to be crowned Caribbean champions for the first time since 2012, the national side, like most of their counterparts in the region, have faced an uncertain two-year period, in which the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on both the domestic and international rugby calendars.
However, a resumption of competitive international action finally looks set to happen with the national team signalling their intent to compete in the Rugby Americas North Sevens tournament in the Turks & Caicos on October 16 and 17.
While the format of the two-day tournament at the Meridian Rugby Fields, is yet to be confirmed by RAN, the incentive for any perspective competing nations is clear, with a top-two finish guaranteeing qualification for both the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, and the Hong Kong Sevens tournament.
“If we can do that then that it would be an unbelievable achievement, absolutely phenomenal,” said Barnwell, the Bermuda head coach. “Finishing in the top two is certainly the aim. We are trying to evolve and push the envelope in terms of what we can achieve.
“As a nation we have had some success in recent years in which the men’s 15s side were crowned Caribbean Championships, and so some of those now involved in the sevens have been at the top of the mountain in terms of rugby in our region.
“However, I’ve reminded them that being at the top is always only temporary and inevitably you have to come down again.
“As a group we have a saying that we are climbing the mountain again and trying to get back to what we feel is feel is successful. That for us would be finishing inside the top two and doing better than we ever have before in sevens rugby.
“We are busy climbing that mountain at the moment and I feel we have put together a really special team to try and achieve that.”
That preparation started last month after Barnwell agreed to take on an active coaching role of the sevens team and helped put together an initial squad of 40 players.
“I was asked to come on board with the sevens and help coach the team which I was delighted to do,” added Barnwell. “It meant that Tom Healy, who has done an incredible job as a player-coach and established the sevens programme, can focus fully on playing and not having to worry about the organisational side of the team.
“In July we had a meeting and we selected a squad of 40 players, which is our biggest ever in a sevens programme. We’ve got a great mixture of players, including some who were off island and loads of young players which is always great and encouraging to see.
“It’s one of the most exciting squads I’ve been involved with, packed with real quality but more importantly the right kind of people.”
As well as casting his eye over the players in regular training sessions, a sevens tournament, which will be held at the National Sports Centre on August 21, will also be used to help Barnwell whittle his original 40-man squad down to a final selection of just 16 players.
“As part of the tournament we will have four teams made up from our initial squad, as well a touring team over from the United States, and hopefully another team made up of players from the club’s on island.
“From that we will make our squad selection and then we have eight weeks left, which will be with our final playing squad.
“I’m going to have a tough time making that final selection but that’s exactly what you want as a coach.”