Guyana: Rugby in Cricket Country – By Geoff Burrowes

Rugby: Test match between Guyana and Barbados at the Garrison Savannah Barbados in the 1960s

Rugby in Cricket Country –– By Geoff Burrowes

Most West Indians will be surprised to hear that Rugby has been alive and well in the West Indies since the 1930s and maybe before!

Part of the reason is that Rugby and  football pitches in the West Indies are baked solid by the tropical sun and rugby players start the season knowing that their elbows, hips and knees are going to be bruised and covered in plaster for the next few months! Also rugby doesn’t have the same cachet as football and cricket – in fact if you make the Guyana or West Indies Cricket team little boys all over the West Indies will know your name and revere you wherever you go! Most little West Indian boys don’t even know what rugby is! Or that it’s played in all the major West Indian countries; Fiercely and with dedication.           

My uncle Angus who played for his Fleet Air Arm squadron in England, during the war, was an assistant district Commissioner in Berbice and was selected to play against a Demerara team at the GFC when I was still a small boy!  I remember that Berbice played in bright green and Demerara played in the royal blue and gold that were our colours. I can’t tell you why but I loved the game from that day on!

Later I realised that a clean hard hit that caused the flying player to come crashing to the ground played a part in it. As did the fact that no matter how hard you played on the field, at the end of the game you enjoyed the good will and comradeship of the very people you were striving mightily against just minutes before. That wasn’t to say we didn’t take numbers, for the next game. I still would love to get the Trinidadian prop who kicked me in the head in a loose scrum, causing a concussion that kept me out of the next game! Wha fo do!

As much as I loved the game, on the day of a match I was all tied up with the anticipation of the game – not scared just tense and unable to eat. Before the game we warmed up and I was still apprehensive and felt that I wouldn’t be able to play fast and hard. We lined up for the opening kickoff and the ref’s whistle blew and we were off!  I would feel a rush of energy and joy! I loved it best when we were kicking off to the opposition. As the whistle blew the fear of not being able to play fast and hard disappeared and we focussed on the player catching the ball and went hell for leather for him. If it was a player like Mickey Maxwell who was an elusive and tricky player he would quickly dodge the first tackler and pass the ball off, but even if it was a split second late we would hit him hard! After that the game flowed and somehow our stamina kicked in!

The ebb and flow of a rugby game is fascinating as there is a lot more flow than ebb. If you were lucky enough to play my position, wing forward. you would be able to play hard for the whole game and rejoice in the running and hitting! I read an English rugby magazine that said Budge Rogers the England wing forward lost 30 pounds of liquid in a game. I was no Rogers but I can testify to the loss of liquid and energy each game! When the final whistle blew and we shook hands with the opponents we would go and have a beer together! Once the GDF took us back to their Sergeant’s mess where we drank excellent Demerara rum neat out of beer glasses all night!

In writing this I naturally think of the heroes of my time like Eddie and Herman D’Andrade, Eddie was a superb captain of the Caribs and Guyana, Jerry Gouveia, a fast, tough and deceptive runner, David Marnham, who regularly kicked 60 yard field goals, Randolph Gilkes, a tough and bustling forward, hooker Tim Mew , who was captain of our team the Hornets, Dickie Carew, a ball hawk and inveterate try scorer, Eddie (Dallas) Kidman, a fast inside three-quarter, with a sidestep to cry for! Second Row forward, a veteran BG player, a police sergeant called Brathwaite who spent a whole afternoon pracice teaching me the tricks of the trade in the trenches such as stepping on the foot of the opposition player in the lineout.

Didn’t do too much good as my vertical was about six inches and players like Johnny Caldeira always out-jumped me in the lineout! Much later, the young Braithwaite brothers, Mickey Maxwell, ‘Labba’ Lashley, Brian Sadler, another excellent place kicker and a great entertainer. Jimmie Fernandes and his brother Jerry Fernandes the best wing forward I have ever seen, Mike Jeffrey, the quintessential forward, fast and hard hitting. Stan Headley, speedy winger, Euril Sealey, agile and durable scrum half, Ed (Sam) Driver, one of the hardest hitters in the game, Skip Roberts a speedy, tough three-quarter and Sandy Daly, whose company I loved.

If I have missed you please forgive me. It’s not that you don’t deserve to be here it’s that I am now 77 years old and my memory is not as sharp as it used to be.

The great players after my time and I’m sure there are many, I don’t know, but before I was born there were exceptional players. I understand there were Bernard Gonsalves and Celso De Freitas, who were apparently superb three-quarters, Charlie Burrowes, nicknamed Sandpaper, who played prop,  Gabriel Fernandes, who rewarded us with a bottle of Bajan Mount Gay rum on winning the MacGregor cup in Barbados  and which we finished in the aisle of the Bee Wee plane on the flight home, John (The Baron) Learmond a hustling, bustling forward and many others I don’t know.

In my day the Trickydadians had the most powerful teams but I believe that has changed with Guyana bringing home the hardware often.

During my youth I rowed, played field hockey, squash, swam and tried other sports but none ever gave me the joy that rugby did!

If you have any information about the great game in the West Indies I wish you would share it with us.

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  • Kamini Leandro  On 01/08/2020 at 11:59 am

    I’ve played rugby as a little boy growing up in Guyana. It was hurtful. But it has toughened me . Life lessons learned

    Sent from my iPhone

  • Johnny Caldeira  On 04/13/2020 at 7:04 pm

    Played for the Hornets, started the All Blacks and played for the Guyana National Team, my claim yo fame was my kicking 69 yards, drop kicking over 50 yards. Played for Oakville Crusaders in Canada, stopped playing at age 50. Great Rugby career and I totally enjoyed it, Geoff I did not kick you in the mouth that cause you to lose a tooth lol

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