St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Over the past few years, rugby in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has taken some hard knocks.
First came the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 which shut down both training and play, followed by the devastation of the explosive eruptions of the La Soufrière volcano in 2021, which damaged and destroyed vital SVG Rugby Union (SVGRU) equipment, not to mention entire neighborhoods in SVG.
However, despite the odds, current SVGRU President 28-year-old Vincentian Dellon Durrant is determined to see the sport continue to rebuild after these setbacks and to return bigger and better than ever before.
“I love no other sport more than rugby,” he says. “Seeing rugby grow on my island makes me happy and keeps me going. I am committed to not only recruiting more players, but also match officials, administrators, volunteers, and any other helping hands that can contribute to our redevelopment and ultimate success.”
A Bit About President Dellon
Dellon Durrant started playing rugby around the age of 18-years-old when it was still a fairly new sport in SVG. He had previously been a track and field athlete, as well as dabbled in a little bit of volleyball, but says he picked up the game quickly.
“My introduction to rugby came from previous SVGRU President Leonard Matthews,” he says. “He kept telling my wife that I should give rugby a try. Then, one evening, I saw the current Team Manager, Brian Alexander, with a rugby ball and asked him about training. He told me there was training close to where I had my college classes, so I decided to go and have a look.”
Durrant says he attended a couple of training sessions and was invited to a League game. He joined one of the local clubs, the Country Pirates, and started playing for them immediately.
“I found that I got into the groove of rugby pretty easily in the sense that I actually scored in my first game,” he says. “I was not well versed with the laws, so from there I started to watch videos, attend more training sessions, and continue to fine-tune my rugby IQ.”
He then started volunteering as an assistant at summer camps to help set up the field and work with the children to get more experience with rugby under his belt.
“From there, I started getting more involved within the Country Pirates,” he says. “After a couple of years, I became President of the club as well as completed my Level 1 Coaching certification. In my free time, I was also going into schools to encourage children to get involved with rugby. I just wanted to soak up as much experience as possible.”
After Dellon finished college, he accepted a position with the national SVGRU in a coaching capacity, before being promoted to the Rugby Program Coordinator, and then to Technical Director. Durrant says right at this point in his rugby career, he was offered a job to become a Coast Guard Officer based on his expertise in Information Technology and Electronics.
“I had to take break from rugby for about six months,” he says. “However, even though I was doing my Coast Guard training, I was still involved behind the scenes and ended up being elected General Secretary, as well as League Coordinator, and I continued to be interested in progressing my coaching skills.”
COVID-19 and La Soufrière
It was during Dellon’s period as General Secretary that COVID-19 hit.
“Like most other places, it hit us hard in the sense that almost everything was closed, there were no flights in or out, and sports were shut down for the entire country,” he says. “But, we still tried to keep in contact with each other via social media to keep the momentum flowing as much as we could.”
Durrant says that during the pandemic, cricket was the first sport in SVG to rehost a match, which prompted the previous SVGRU President to contact him to see if rugby could do the same.
“We went to the authorities and asked for the guidelines to host a fun match between the clubs – just to get back into something after a full year hiatus,” he says. “And, surprisingly, we did it! Rugby became the second sport in St. Vincent and the Grenadines to host an activity during that time, which was then followed by some Under 19s tournaments.”
Just as things were starting to take shape again, Dellon says SVG and the rugby community were rocked by another blow – the La Soufrière volcanic eruptions of April 2021.
“Just as we were about to get permission to go back into the schools, the volcano erupted,” he says. “We were hit hard again – we lost a lot of equipment and things got damaged. Our computer the Union used to keep track of our finances and other important documents was damaged which was a significant setback. Not to mention that a lot of St. Vincent and the Grenadines was evacuated and covered in ash, so there was definitely no rugby playing – it was displacement and survival mode for a lot of people.
However, Durrant says that SVGRU received some much-needed support from their Caribbean rugby family, and the local rugby community also did their part to ensure that they assisted on the ground in whatever way they could.
“We received donations from neighboring nations like the St. Lucia Rugby Union, who donated water and food supplies to us,” he says. “We distributed water, food, and clothes donated to members in the Union that were more on the outskirts of the island and who were hit the hardest by the volcanic eruptions.”
Dellon says they started to rebuild rugby in SVG as soon as possible, however a more focused mission to get things back on track was rolled out after he became President last year.
“Not long after the volcano erupted, like a phoenix literally rising from the ashes, we started to build again,” he says. “However, the real rebuilding efforts didn’t start until April last year, a year after the volcano and as the pandemic was easing up. I starting bringing in a lot of help from the senior players, ‘the Old Boys’, and they have been very understanding of where I am focused in terms of attracting younger players, as well as getting more match officials and coaches involved.”
Durrant says the goal moving forward is to get more people certified, ideally the older local and SVGRU players, and to keep them involved in rugby in varying capacities.
“We have started a ‘Big Brother’ mentorship program which covers not only rugby, but also school and home life, and offers general guidance to young players from older rugby players,” he says. “We really try our best to use what little resources we have to aid all players in their development, however possible.”
Dellon says another initiative born out of the SVGRU rebuilding mission was the ‘Give Rugby A Try’ program which focuses on recruiting older females to blend with the mix of younger secondary school female players as a way of boosting women’s rugby in SVG.
St. Lucia, Here We Come
Dellon says ‘Give Rugby A Try’ has been so successful in SVG that it resulted in them taking a Women’s sevens team overseas for the very first time to St. Lucia last month. Durrant says he had reached out to St. Lucia’s Rugby Technical Director asking to collaborate on an Independence 7s Tournament, which was previously held in SVG.
“Once our request was accepted, we started with all cylinders firing,” he says. “We contacted Rugby Americas North (RAN) and received guidance and facilitation assistance from them, which was wonderful.”
Dellon says the St. Lucia ‘Super Week’ included a string of competitive matches, alongside educational opportunities such as coaching courses and administrative training.
“It aligned with our goals so perfectly. As a result of our recent trip, we are not even halfway through the year, and we already have more trained educators, match officials, and coaches,” he says. “The Super Week was also full of 15s and 7s games, which was great for both our male and female players to get experience outside of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, against different opponents and styles of play.”
And, Dellon says this kind of collaboration between neighboring unions is a must for the progression of the sport, particularly in the Caribbean.
“I think it’s essential to partner up and share resources,” he says. “Small islands tend to have limited resources, but when we pool together, we can get so much more out of it. I am asking for continued support from RAN and World Rugby after this recent trip to St. Lucia. It just demonstrated what small nations can achieve when they come together, and we are committed to improving rugby throughout the Caribbean.”
St. Lucia defeated St. Vincent and the Grenadines in a Men’s test match during the 2023 ‘Super Week’ in St. Lucia, 51-8. It was the first time the two teams competed against one another since 2019.
When asked what the future holds for rugby in SVG, Durrant said:
“We have high hopes for the future. Our goal is to play more international ‘friendly’ games in our country. In fact, we are currently preparing for a Women’s Senior 15s Tournament as well as an Under 19s Tournament. We are also reaching out to players who came through the ‘Get Into Rugby’ Program and inviting them to play at a more senior level, and we continue our female recruitment drive. We are also continuing our work in local schools and planning to add more schools as we now have more Level 1 trained coaches. We will continue to educate our coaches, officials, and administrators to do our very best to be a driving force for rugby in the region.”