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Rugby captain’s next big goals

Haydn Gill

Rugby captain’s next big goals

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RUGBY is a minor sport in Barbados. One of the island’s leading players, however, has major goals for himself, his country and his beloved sport.

Sean Ward is captain of the Barbados men’s rugby team, a role he undertakes with unbridled fervour.

He wants nothing but the best.

His ultimate goal is to play the sport professionally. Along the way, he wants to see Barbados earning the prized achievement of qualifying for a major global event like the Olympics. Another ambition is for rugby to have a home locally.

The 25-year-old, who had his first taste of national colours at the age of 15, led Barbados at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, last July. Five heavy defeats – 68-5 vs Canada, 56-0 vs Scotland, 59-0 vs world champions New Zealand, 31-7 vs Cook Islands, 34-0 vs Sri Lanka – suggested it was a tough stint but it was one that provided a learning curve that will serve the squad well for the future.

Barbados were last-minute qualifiers, earning a place after Nigeria withdrew and the readiness and strength of the squad was affected by issues that prevented some British-born players with local connections from representing the island.

Nevertheless, Ward looks back at the Games for the positives that emerged.

“The overall experience was grand. Everybody who was there representing Barbados was overwhelmed, especially for the rugby boys, because it was a late draw. We weren’t preparing for that but everyone made us feel very welcome, especially the Scottish,” Ward told the WEEKEND NATION.

“We didn’t have the team that we wanted. There were certain adversities here with passport issues. We just took what cards we had and we made do. It was good to play against the world champions at such a level on a big stage.”

Qualification for Glasgow was a major achievement for Barbados, but Ward wants the national team to go even further.

At the moment, he spends about five months each year playing overseas, mainly in the United Kingdom, and the possibility of a professional contract is something he aims for. In an effort to get there, he ensures he is training at least five days a week, either on the field or in the gym.

Before Ward moves onto the professional stage, however, there are other priorities.

“I started with Barbados. I’m not yet ready to abandon Barbados. I want to see Barbados get to the Olympics or Pan Am Games and give a good showing. Then I will take up one of those contracts floating around,” Ward said.

It might appear to be a lofty goal to earn a place at a major games but the captain feels it is not unrealistic, given the talent around.

Two competitions in Mexico next month will give Barbados a gauge as to where they are.

“We can easily win those two tournaments and that will put us in the limelight. It will set us up for next year with the Pan Am Games and Hong Kong Sevens. Last year, when we qualified for Hong Kong, we were only at about 70 per cent. We have upped the game. It’s not really a hard task.”

Rugby can by no means be considered a mass appeal sport in Barbados despite its growth in the past few years. The Barbados Rugby Club has a register of more than 1 700 even if a good number are not active. Local matches and regional engagements are played at the Garrison. A programme for secondary schools is also in place.

Ward isn’t quite sure why rugby isn’t more accepted in Barbados but feels potential sponsors stand to benefit from tremendous mileage against the background of the number of overseas engagements for the national team.

As the Lodge Hill, St Michael resident identified some of the things he would like to see for rugby in the coming years, his passion for the sport was noticeable.

“I would love to see some sort of pavilion out here, maybe we can have a different home where we can have our own set-up. All clubs in the world have their own home ground, where people can come and experience the rugby atmosphere and get involved in the sport,” he said.

“Years down the road, I want to see a lot more kids coming through the programme. There is a very strong link between sports and life. A lot of people don’t see it that way, especially mothers. It’s go to school, get a degree, get an office job and they lose the link between sports and life. There is a big link and I want to see a lot more people get involved in sport. It doesn’t have to be rugby. Sport is good for your health.”

Many of Ward’s goals for the sport are dependent on resources that are currently lacking.

With that in mind, the Barbados captain is urging those who can make a difference to get involved.

“We need certain entities in Barbados to take sports and rugby seriously. If we want to get the results we know we can give, we need to get behind these teams,” Ward said.

“We are not asking for money … but in terms of things people can do. We will do the work on the field. We just need people and the country to do the work off the field to help us. That goes for all the sports in Barbados.”

A former student of The Michael School, Ward was first introduced to rugby around the age of ten and immediately took a liking to it.

Learning the ropes did not prove to be too difficult, and in less than five years he was in the senior Barbados team. As a schoolboy, rubbing shoulders against bigger and more experienced players was no easy task.

He recalled his early days when he had a few battles against one of his good friends, Antonio Gibbons, that ended with the unpleasant sight of a bruised noise and plenty of blood.

“It was extremely challenging. It’s a bit of a fraternity. You always get bigger heads and bigger brothers who would want to be a bit of a bully. I did go through my initiation as many people would have,” said Ward, whose major interest outside of rugby is his involvement in the customisation of off-road vehicles.