Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom
Pirates Roatan Rugby Club in their game uniforms.

The Island Provides Honduran Team’s Core Players

I t’s the first time rugby is being played in Honduras’ history and the sport’s local history started on Roatan. The idea came from Matthew Harper, a South African businessman who has lived on Roatan since 1987.

In 2013 Harper, who learned how to play rugby at school, thought it would be a good thing to introduce his electrical business employees and Roatan Electric Company employees to the game. “Rugby teaches you discipline, courage and teamwork,” said Harper who thought the sport might appeal to the macho ethics in Honduras and he was right. Roatanians and Hondurans answered the call to Rugby in droves. So much so that today 40 percent of the Honduras’ national team comes from Roatan. “It’s the most successful team in Honduras rugby. We are unbeaten in fifteens, we only lost one game in sevens,” said Harper about his Roatan Pirates team.

In 2013 two teams were formed: the Roatan Pirates and a team in La Esperanza put together by Jason Turner, a Canadian expat. The rugby team in Tegucigalpa came together in 2016 and teams were formed in San Pedro Sula and in La Ceiba. All-in-all, there are now six amateur rugby teams in Honduras.

The Roatan Pirates practice once-a-week at the Kix sports facility and 50-60 men and women show up to practice. A lot of the rugby training is focused on building stamina and weight training. The island athletes practice for both quick and regular forms of the game. Rugby Sevens is a quick, high energy form of the sport in which seven player teams play seven minute halves, instead of the usual 15 players playing 40 minute halves.

Taking the Roatan rugby team to a tournament game is a pricy affair. It costs at least Lps. 40,000 every time a team goes to the mainland to play. Honduras needs to maintain a certain number of players, and must play a minimum number of games to be qualified to join World Rugby, the sport’s organizing body. “It wasn’t ‘til January of 2018 that Honduras was accepted into World Rugby,” said Harper.

Over the last couple years Honduran rugby has grown and developed enough to challenge rugby teams from the Central American division. In September 2018 Honduras played its first international match, in Tegucigalpa, against Panama. “We were winning; we had it in the bag. We were up by 20 points in the first half,” said Harper. “And of course the Honduran psyche like even with the football started getting over confident.” The players were becoming complacent, laughing and joking and they took the foot off the gas, they made some mistakes, they panicked. Honduras ended up losing in the first international match to Panama. “It’s disappointing because we were winning and we were better than them,” said Harper.

Then the national team travelled to San Salvador to face their other division competitor. “Same thing happened. We were winning the game, but through ill discipline we had three players in ‘sin bin’ for personal fault and the Salvadorians beat the visitors by one point in the last moment. This was a crushing defeat for Hondurans. We were very disappointed because we were outside favorite to win it,” said Harper.

The Pan-American Games and Olympics linger as a prize for Honduran Rugby but Harper is realistic: “We are not at the level to qualify, yet,” said Harper. The top tier America countries that qualify for the world cup are Argentina, Uruguay, United States and Canada. “Central American countries are the last ones to catch up,” said Harper who is the Honduras National Rugby Team coach.

The players are starting to get noticed. One Honduran born player has started for a team in England. William Harper, 29 Matthew’s son, started playing rugby in La Ceiba and played two seasons in Swanage & Wareham RFC Rugby Union club in England’s county league. “He is the first Honduran player to play outside of the country in a rugby club,” said Mathew Harper about his son.

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