Sunday, January 21, 2018

Mendez: T&T ruggermen ready for Guyana

It’s probably a case of déjà vu for coach Larry Mendez and the Trinidad and Tobago senior ruggermen as they prepare to face Guyana for the right to progress in the NACRA 15-a-side regional tournament qualifier.

Saturday’s fixture is scheduled for UWI at 3.30 p.m., and is a virtual final, with the winners progressing to the final round, where they will meet South USA.

T&T were in a similar position in first round Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifying a year ago. They beat Barbados—at St Mary’s College Ground, Serpentine Road in St Clair—and needed victory over Guyana to seal their spot.

They then travelled to Guyana and were humbled by a 20-0 shut-out win for the hosts.

This time around, T&T secured a 19-6 away victory over the burly Barbadians, and must get past Guyana at home to progress.

T&T coach Larry Mendez, who watched his team outrun the Bajans, is understandably wary of the Guyanese, who already came from behind to defeat Barbados 19-17 in Guyana after failing to score in the first half.

With experienced captain Ryan Gonsalves and industrious Harvard Club player Claudius Butts in the Guyana line-up once again, Mendez is not taking chances.

“By no means we are taking the Guyanese for granted,” Mendez told the Express yesterday. “I know their fitness programme is something they cherish. What happened last year, we definitely need to fix that scenario. Where we need to be at the moment is way past Guyana.”

Mendez admitted that T&T “haven’t been doing our home-work in previous years” but was “confident” of a turn around. He explained that T&T have not had international opponents in the build-up to face Barbados, but have been working on their strengths and weaknesses in preparation for the fitness conscious Guyanese.

“I was able to get some footage (of the Barbados-Guyana match), and I also had reports from people who were there,” he said. “I myself didn’t get to go, but I have a good idea of what it is we coming up against.

“At the moment, luckily we started our training very early this season, so a lot of the younger players, it’s probably their first time on the national team, but what we’ve been practicing is not new to them.”

Mendez also hailed the team spirit as “absolutely brilliant”, and he is hoping to use that to good effect against Guyana.

“What we’re trying to do different is sort of develop our own style of play. The Bajan forwards, they were huge…we don’t have the big guys, so we try to play a more expansive game.”

So how are Mendez and his charges going to get past the favoured Guyanese?

“What we need to do right is to pay particular attention to the key factors in every skill, so that we are in possession of the ball more than they are. Keeping things simple, and doing the basic things right (is how we will win).”