HONG KONG SEVENS
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Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2016

Rugby balls and wedding bells: debutants Cayman Islands promising a party or two in Hong Kong

Tropical archipelago represented in SAR for the first time as team captain combines playing duties with nuptials

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 April, 2016, 3:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 3:42pm

One is an archipelago with strong British roots that is known throughout the world as an important financial centre – and the other is, um, an archipelago with strong British roots that is known throughout the world as an important financial centre.

It’s an exciting time for a lot of reasons but I’m going to be 100 per cent focused on rugby until Sunday afternoon
Mark Soto, Cayman Islands captain

On the face of things, that is where the similarities between the Cayman Islands (population: less than 60,000) and Hong Kong (population: north of seven million) end, with the former conjuring images of swaying palms and unoccupied stretches of sugar-white sand, while the latter doesn’t.

But for Cayman Islands captain Mark Soto, the link between the two is about to get a lot stronger.

Soto will lead his merry band of amateurs out on the pitch against Hong Kong in their first-ever match at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens on Friday afternoon – and just six days later he’ll marry his Hong Kong-born fiancée at a ceremony on the Peak.

For someone who until late last week had never before set foot in Hong Kong, the place is guaranteed to leave a long-lasting impression on the 29-year-old.

“It’s an exciting time for a lot of reasons but I’m going to be 100 per cent focused on rugby until Sunday afternoon,” says the bearded Soto, who owns a liquor store in George Town, the Cayman capital.

“The missus and her mum have done a great job organising the wedding and everything is pretty much done, so it’s allowed me to concentrate on what we as a team need to do on the pitch.”

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The “missus” is Bridget Kidner, a Cayman-based lawyer whose parents spent more than 30 years living in Hong Kong before they themselves relocated to the islands. But as Soto explains, a Hong Kong wedding was never originally on the cards.

“We had already set the date – April 14 – and sent out the invitations before the team qualified for the tournament. But it’s all worked out. A lot of the guys from the team are now able to stay on for the wedding, which is great.

“As individuals in the team we’ve worked really hard and made a lot of sacrifices to reach this point and Bridget and the rest of the family know that. They’ve been very understanding.”

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The connections between the Cayman Islands side and Hong Kong don’t end there, however. Just six weeks ago, Hong Kong-headquartered Borrelli Walsh, a specialist restructuring, insolvency and forensic accounting firm, came on board as a key sponsor for the team’s inaugural Hong Kong journey.

The firm, which opened an office in Cayman late last year, is a long-time supporter of rugby in Hong Kong and is a principal sponsor of local teams USRC Tigers and Discovery Bay Pirates.

“Their involvement has been superb and couldn’t have come at a better time,” says Richard “Grizz” Adams, the long-serving coach of the Cayman Islands, who will retire from his position after the tournament.

“Our rugby programme receives a little bit of government funding and a little bit of IOC [International Olympic Committee] support, so corporate sponsorship and our own fundraising initiatives are important.

“A lot of the time the guys are still paying out of their pockets – they paid for the kit on their backs.

“We’re very much like the original amateurs trying to play with the big boys. We’re representing the country but we also want to represent the hard work we’ve done.”