Soon after competing at the Hong Kong Sevens qualifiers last month, and graced with a full strength team, Guyana's rugby team arrived in T&T confident and ready to move into its second successive Nacra Championship final, with an easy win over the host team in sight.
But, despite a valiant effort in the end, Guyana fell short by three points (needing a win to advance), while T&T celebrated among many things, a revenge win as well as a spot in the Nacra Championship final against North Zone winner, Mexico. The match ended 22-20 in T&T's favour, but perhaps a bit too close for comfort considering the host team held a 12-0 lead at the half.
T&T will now prepare to challenge for a third Nacra Championship title (previous winner in 2001 and 2008) against final debutant, Mexico, on April 25 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
"Guyana would have been clear favourites as the defending champs," said T&T Olympic Committee (TTOC) president and avid rugby supporter, Brian Lewis, who missed the match and returned home from a work related trip in Miami, Florida. Lewis, however, kept pace of the match via social media, celebrated the important win, albeit by himself. "Winning a close, tough game versus our archrivals Guyana is great."
The Guyana "Green Machine" won the three-team South Zone title last year after hosting and defeating T&T's "Calypso Warriors" 15-8 in Providence.
There was an air of anticipation from both camps heading into the match. Based on comments from its local rugby union president, the Guyanese expected nothing less than a win.
T&T, on the other hand, prepared for battle with intense training sessions in the weeks prior, and given its 34-5 win over Barbados in the first round-robin match, and with an almost fully-fit team (excluding Jonathan O'Connor) there was little reason to believe that the "Calypso Warriors" couldn't dethrone Guyana.
"The win showed the T&T team is maturing into a determine fighting unit. Guyana is not an easy outfit to beat when they have their best team available, and Guyana came with their best players," Lewis said, adding that "it is now up to the T&T players and coaches to get back to the drawing board and improve. The final will be another hard battle."
Meanwhile, T&T Rugby Football Union president, Leslie Figaro, who was at Fatima College Ground on Saturday, said, "(It was a) well spirited game by T&T. We held our nerve... The win is huge for me and our national programme given that Guyana has beaten T&T over the past few years. We have redefined our national programme and now (we're) seeing the results."
Figaro praised the team for its dedication to improvement. "Playing in front of your home crowd is always pressure. I commend the dedication and focus of the team's training. (After more training) we are coming all out for Mexico."
"(Against Guyana) our defence at times was excellent. Guyana has always been a true opponent."
Looking forward to upcoming events, Figaro shared his confidence in each T&T rugby team saying, "We are going full out for the Caribbean Championship. The U-19 national team battle for King of the Caribbean in July in Miami, and both men and women's national teams, the sevens team (are all getting better), the Olympic qualifiers in June. Rugby is here to stay."