Guyana look to Butts to provide some Calypso magic
Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanhai, Alvin Kallicharran, Roy Fredericks - the names roll off the tongue as you tick off the great Guyanese players who contributed so much to West Indian cricket. Claudius Butts doesn't quite have the same ring, but by the end of this weekend the captain of the Guyana sevens team may have put his name in lights.
'Claudius Butts,' says Guyana coach Theo Henry without hesitation when asked beforehand which of his players could become rugby's version of the Calypso cricketers who enthralled the world in the 1970s with their swashbuckling brand of play. Like his Christian name suggests, Butts is a leader of men, being at the forefront as Guyana won the North American Caribbean Rugby Association championship in Bridgetown, Barbados, in November, which earned them an invitation to Hong Kong for the first time.
And he led from the front in their Hong Kong debut, although it was always going to be a losing battle against Portugal, who won 19-0 in the opening game of the tournament.
Like cricket, rugby was a game imported to the Caribbean islands by the British. 'We have been playing since the 1940s when we were a British colony,' says Henry. 'At the start, rugby was played only by expatriates but over the years the game has moved on and started to attract the locals.'
But not as many as the IRB would like, with only around 300 senior players registered, although Henry is hopeful this number can increase with more exposure.
Guyana have already punched above their weight, winning their nacra championship for the past six years. This has led to invitations to the Las Vegas leg of the world series, as well as participation at the Pan-American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, last year and the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010.
'We have been playing at the Caribbean level for the past 10 years and we have been champions for six consecutive years so we are looking for new challenges and it doesn't come any bigger than this, playing at the Hong Kong Sevens,' Henry said.
Henry and Guyana are dreaming big.
'Core-team status will lift the interest of rugby in Guyana to a new level and get more new players coming into the game,' Henry said.
Butts and Guyana will have to step it up hugely today if they are to force their way into contention. A tall order considering they will face Russia and Japan. Calypso magic will definitely be needed.