The TT Rugby Union (TTRU) is set for a bumper 2024, after covid19 robbed the sport of any action from 2020-2022.
After the three-year absence, rugby rebounded in 2023 and continues to develop both on and off the field.
TTRU president Maria Thomas expressed pleasure with the sport’s progress so far, and is intent on meeting and surpassing their outlined objectives.
Looking back at the past 18 months, Thomas said that 2022 was the re-emergence year for the TTRU.
She said the union was determined to maintain and build its local and international reputation. They focused mainly on what could be achieved on the pitch considering welfare constraints, and ensuring a platform was laid to hit the ground running once covid19 restrictions were lifted.
“We applied our assessments from 2022 to our offerings for 2023, which has been a vibrant year thanks to the dedicated commitments of our membership,” Thomas said.
“The athletes set the tone early giving us a surge of energy with their strong desire to come back out and compete. Our membership has increased, with four new clubs becoming full members since 2021, and a revitalisation of committee and management structures continues across the union.”
These developments set a good foundation for 2023 as the TTRU sought to host a number of tournaments, heavily invest in assuring continuity in its schools’ programme and increase its public reach.
This year, TT hosted Canada’s Trinity College, Barbados’ men 15s and women’s sevens teams, USA South Panthers men senior and U23 15s teams and Texas Rattlesnakes men’s U23 15s.
Additionally, TT hosted the Commonwealth Youth Games and welcomed Australia, Canada, Fiji, Jamaica, Kenya, Scotland, South Africa, and Wales in men and women’s U18 rugby sevens.
TT teams also travelled for the Rugby Americas North (RAN) 15s Tournament in Jamaica where the U19 men secured the plate and the women earned silver in the region’s return to the 15s format.
The senior women’s sevens team also competed at the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games.
TT also competed in the Grenada World 7s, which concluded on Saturday.
Thomas said local clubs benefited tremendously from the number of activities held here.
She said, “The ability to host (tournaments) increases our clubs access to dynamic competition, raises our profile, and is an opportunity for us to share our great country with sure to be lifelong rugby friends.
“In local competition we returned to a full 15s programme with a robust men’s competition, women’s 15s and men’s age-grade 15s. Our sevens series featured men and women in both senior and age-grade divisions; U16s were introduced to contact; and we’ve continued to build our grassroots base with Tag X (non-contact rugby) International.”
The TTRU’s Schools’ Rugby Union maintained a strong presence all year. They kicked things off launching their league in January. This played a major role in boosting the fraternity’s youth participation, and made a huge impact with the Schools Rugby Caravan.
The three-week caravan was boosted by the support of seven embassies and opened in October while the Rugby World Cup 2023 was going on in France.
Thomas thanked France envoy Didier Chabert, his team, and the participating missions for bringing the spirit of Rugby World Cup to TT.
On improving their public outreach, Thomas added, “There are teams, clubs, athletes, and even stakeholders who have increased the number of touch points that we have online, and a restructuring of our media system is under way to help us to better reach the public, and our members, through established media platforms.”
Behind the scenes, Thomas confirmed that the TTRU’s management capacity is growing.
“We’ve been learning what works for us locally through trial and error and are establishing data to build systems for success in all areas. We’ve been represented in numerous local, regional, and global tournaments, forums, and events. TT is being recognised for having technical experts in various fields of rugby.”
Thomas said clubs are asking more of the union, and unity remains key to achieving their objectives.
“Collaboration and co-operation ensure that we continue to build our competition. We are beginning to see results from initiatives to align rugby and professional pathways – something that is critical to sustainable success.
“As we rediscover ourselves and our needs locally, we’ve been able to advocate in meaningful ways for holistic regional progress.”
She said the sport is growing and her organisation has to meet its needs.
“Our greatest challenge is indeed a great one to have – the influx in demand for rugby and our ability to meet that demand. Securing and outfitting venues for our fixtures continues to impede our ability to maintain welfare standards, communicate our events, and generate income.
“As Trinbagonians, we are fortunate to have incredible support from the government for international fixtures and we look forward to applying similar support to enhancing our local product and ultimately improving our global rankings.”
She said there will be more local rugby in 2024 and even the opportunity for TT to host the RAN 15s.
“The Tobago Classic 7s tournament will bring us back to Tobago to start the year (2024) in fine form. The USA South Panthers are scheduled for a competitive visit with our TT women’s 15s team, and the TT men’s 15s team is also in training to accept the challenge from Guyana, in what will be our first away test match.
“We have the opportunity to host the RAN 15s, and of course our local fixtures will reflect the growth that we have experienced over that past year with the addition of another division, and the continuation of youth development caravans.”
Thomas said that Tag X will feature prominently as TT play locally and regionally.
She added, “If we accept no limits we can achieve beyond even our own expectations.”