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A try and an inspirational performance from Jamaica’s captain and fly-half Hubert Thomas, coupled with a dominant forward effort, set the scene for a 48-0 victory over a St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) side that battled all the way to the end in front of a record rugby crowd at Arnos Vale Sports Complex on Saturday.
This was the first qualification match for Rugby World Cup 2019 and it was refereed by Nigel Owens, who took charge of the final in 2015. While the dream is over for SVG for four more years, the improvements they are making on and off the field mean there are still plenty of reasons for coach Mike Jackson and his team to be proud.
Thomas, though, was clearly jubilant after the game and ready to enjoy this seven-try victory. The veteran number 10 said: “It’s great, it’s wonderful. Our scrum was amazing today and that made it easy for us to use our pace in the backs to hit the gaps and press that advantage. It’s the best scrum I’ve seen in Jamaica and I’ve been playing in the team for 16 years.
“We’ll go back to Jamaica now and continue training and working hard because we have a lot of work to do in order to get past the next phase. We’re working towards Japan. We will go as far as we can in this process and the guys will believe in themselves that we can do this.”
In front of a record 1,000 vociferous SVG fans, tries from Thomas, flankers Steve Miller and Errick Groves, prop Orien Smith, centre Reinardo Richards, two from number eight Crisdan Grayson and one near the end by winger Shamar Creary meant it was a straightforward enough victory for Jamaica.
Whether Thomas and his men will be playing at the next Rugby World Cup in Japan remains to be seen but the fact is both they and SVG have had the opportunity to do so. Indeed, every full member of World Rugby can aspire to playing the game at the highest level.
And while they haven’t got there just yet, Jamaica do already have something tangible to take back to Kingston with them and that is they will climb six places in the World Rugby Rankings to 72nd position, a record high for the Caribbean nation. Meanwhile, SVG will slip three places to 85 in the rankings when they are updated on Monday.
But SVG captain Andrew Phillips remains proud of his charges: “We put in a lot of work for this and we are proud of our achievements. We know there is more we can do and going forward there will be a lot of hard afternoons on the training field but we feel happy because we gave it all that we could.
“We have World Rugby’s Get Into Rugby programme in place here and for us it’s about inspiring young Vincentians to fall in love with the game. When I started, I was in secondary school and now we are placing the game in primary schools and trying to bring a new crop of individuals through that way. We are passionate about that and we are growing the game here in St Vincent.”
While the opening ceremony is still three and a half years away, the Rugby World Cup 2019 has now already begun with an inclusive and exciting qualification process underway. In total, the competition now features more than 90 nations. The qualifying stages comprise around 200 matches, featuring in excess of 3,000 players across six continents, including the developing rugby markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China as well as USA and Mexico.
With 12 teams having secured their place at Japan 2019 courtesy of finishing in the top three of their respective pools in 2015, the remaining eight places will be determined by a process of regional and cross-regional qualifiers and, for the first time, a stand-alone round-robin repechage tournament to determine the final qualifier in 2018.