Saint Lucia

The 2023 Rugby Americas North Sevens hosted by Rugby Canada in British Columbia was a pivotal moment in regional rugby.

The tournament was a Qualifying Event for Paris 2024, as well as for the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series, and drew in upwards of 2,000 fans each day to see RAN’s top talent battle it out in fierce competition.

The event also marked a turning point for Saint Lucia Rugby Football Union (SLRFU). As the only team to score on Canada’s Women all tournament, it’s clear that the Saint Lucia Women have been making big strides since their appearance at last year’s RAN Sevens in Mexico.

Marline Cherry, Saint Lucia Sevens player and the single try-scorer against Canada, says the experience was ‘second to none’ and by far her favorite RAN Tournament to date.

“Although were very disappointed with our performance in Mexico, we just decided to push forward towards preparing for RAN 2023,” she says. “We were thrilled to be the only team to score against Canada and in all my 16 years of playing, to be THE try scorer was a major highlight. It made us leave on a high note and showed the younger girls that despite being from a small island, we can still accomplish big things!”

 

A Little Bit About Marline 

38-year-old Lucian Marline Cherry was born the middle child of seven to a single mother.

“Sports was kind of thrown onto me, being that I was raised with four brothers who were very athletic, and I used to follow them around everywhere,” she says. “However, I became a teenage mother shortly after I finished high school and so that put a stop to my athletics training.”

Marline says she eventually became a certified Fitness Instructor/Personal Trainer, before discovering the sport of rugby.

“When my second child, a daughter, turned two years old I started to walk around my neighborhood to lose the baby weight,” she says. “I saw this strange (at the time) game on the playing field, and it captured my attention. As I turned to leave, I heard my name being called. It was the then Coach, Mr. Garner, who told me that they were trying to get girls to join a female rugby team.”

Marline says she hesitated at first.

“I thought I was much too big – I could barely catch my breath walking, let alone running,” she says. “Fast forward, I ended up joining and loved the group of girls, some of whom were also mothers. While we trained, our kids were on the sidelines being looked over by whoever decided to come to watch or whoever was out with an injury that day. It was that family atmosphere that kept me there, I just loved it. I had found my tribe!”

Sixteen years later, single mom of three Marline is still playing her beloved rugby for local club ‘Rogues’ and international team ‘The Misfits’ while she pursues her qualifications to become a Registered Nurse. And she continues to involve her children in the game that has meant so much to her life.

“I have raised my kids while playing the sport I love,” she says. “My son played his first international tournament in Mexico last year. He has been watching me play from the age of three, and now it is my turn to watch him.”

Tournament Recap

SLRFU Technical Director, Wayne Pantor, says the 2023 RAN Sevens experience was great for players and staff, both in terms of international experience and developmental assessment.

“This recent experience is extremely beneficial to the growth of the game, especially for the region’s smaller unions,” he says. “It is imperative that our players are able to play against the higher tier teams in order to be more competitive and marketable. RAN Sevens gave us a realistic gauge of our developmental programs and was able to assist us with our strategic plans moving forward.”

Wayne says being the only team to score on Canada all Tournament was thrilling for the team.

“The players were ecstatic with that accomplishment; almost a David and Goliath experience for them,” he says. “From the coaching aspect, it drove home the mental awareness that I have been trying to have them focusing on in terms of our system and pattern of play to create those kinds of opportunities.”

He adds, “Of course, all of this would not be possible without the support of World Rugby, Rugby Americas North, and the Saint Lucia Olympic Committee who continue to support the rugby programs on the island – financially, logistically, and technically – and we are very grateful.”

What’s Next for St. Lucia

Marline says Team Saint Lucia now have their sights set on 2024 RAN.

“With every tournament, we learn and grow, and with every loss we get hungrier for a win,” she says. “We would like to have more game play throughout the year to allow us a better opportunity to do better in the bigger tournaments.”

Marline adds the biggest challenge for rugby in Saint Lucia is finance.

“We need more funding – for traveling, rugby equipment, and access to a gym,” she says. “Every time we travel, we have to raise funds through various cake sales, raffles, and simply going out asking business places and citizens to donate to us. Most of the girls travel far to attend training, most are mothers or caregivers, and sometimes we have to choose whether we attend training or attend work so it can be challenging from that perspective too.”

Wayne says the team is currently a good mix of veterans, seniors, and rookies which will help for the transition preparations for future qualifier events.

“We are now focusing on spreading the game into the age grades and communities to grow our recruitment base,” he says. “The present squad will be attending the Grenada Rugby World 7s in December and hopefully the Tropical 7s and LA 7s in preparation for 2024 RAN competitions.”

As for Marline, she says she is continuing to focus on her schooling, while also making sure she continues to play rugby to ‘stay sane’.

“Rugby is not just a game for me, it is my life. It has shown me my true strength, willpower, and resilience,” she says. “It is because of rugby that I know that I can do anything despite my age, my size, my height, and my role as a mom. I would like to continue my journey of being a player for now and to eventually become Saint Lucia Rugby’s biggest cheerleader – whether it is through watching my son or simply watching my Saint Lucian girls and boys play the sport that has given me so much.”