By Gary Heatly
Did you know that the Cayman Islands are ranked 57th in the men’s rugby union world rankings?
And did you know that a former Merchiston Castle pupil has been capped by them ten times?
Here is Jonny Gibson’s fascinating story:
Growing up in the Cayman Islands in the western Caribbean Sea, Jonny’s dad was a big rugby player, so he got his son involved in the sport when he was around five.
“We played rugby every Saturday out there, but football was the main sport in the Cayman Islands, so I played that too,” the 25-year-old recounts.
“I wasn’t the best footballer, but I enjoyed trying all sports, and it was a fun place to be.”
It was when he arrived at Merchiston when he was 13 that his rugby started to take up a lot more of his time and become his favourite pastime though.
“The options in terms of sport are amazing at Merchiston, and it was good to come into a structured rugby set-up with good coaching and focus on that quite a bit,” he said of his move to Edinburgh.
“We were playing rugby three times a week, and because I was a bit bigger, I just got stuck in and loved it.
“In my final year at school [2012/13], we reached the Scottish Schools under-18 Cup final, and that was a massive thing for us.
“The coaches made it really special for us and playing in front of our family and friends at Murrayfield was something else.”
In that match in late November 2012, Merchiston were 17-15 up with six minutes to go, but a late converted try by Adam Hastings, who now plays for Scotland, won it for Watson’s.
The likes of Hugh Fraser, who played for Scotland under-20, current Edinburgh Rugby and international cap Magnus Bradbury and Glasgow Warriors and Scotland Sevens man Paddy Kelly were playing in that Merchiston squad.
After he left Merchiston in the summer of 2013, Jonny headed up to Dundee University to study Geography and also play rugby for the student team.
Whilst in the City of Discovery the tighthead prop also had a spell playing with Dundee High and, once he graduated, he relocated to Edinburgh.
“I was living near Myreside, so I headed down there to train and play for a period with the second XV, getting a couple of games for the first XV,” Jonny said of the 2017/18 season.
“Then, I was offered a chance to go and play in the USA under a coach that I had played for before.
“So, in March 2018, I headed off to Chicago and played for three months for the Chicago Lions in an amazing city.
“I returned to Edinburgh for my master’s degree later that year in carbon management – a business course focused on sustainability topics – at Edinburgh University.
“Whilst I was doing that course [in 2018/19] I also played rugby for the university and was lucky enough to play in the Varsity match at Murrayfield which was excellent.”
Last summer Jonny received a phone call from Watsonians Super6 head coach Fergus Pringle asking him to head down and train with the squad preparing for the new semi-pro league.
“I earned a chance in the Super6, and I loved challenging myself at that level,” Jonny said about a Watsonians squad – containing fellow ex-Merchiston pupils Matthew Currie, Lomond MacPherson, Kieran Watt and Harry Fisher – that topped the regular-season table for 2019/20 before the campaign was cut short.
“The coaching, led by Fergus, was excellent while we also got tips from Scotland tighthead prop WP Nel [involved at Myreside as a specialist coach] and that was brilliant for my development.
“The year just gone was my most enjoyable in terms of rugby, so we will see where things go from 2020/21 onwards.”
Of course, while he has been on this journey over the last few years Jonny, who now works for PwC, has also earned caps with the Cayman Islands.
“That has been an amazing opportunity,” he said.
“I got involved with the team around 2017 when I was finishing my undergraduate degree; I flew out to Cayman and played in the Caribbean Championship.
“That happened for the next couple of years too, and we have been to places like Mexico, Columbia and Mexico on tours and the whole buzz around the squad is great, and it has been an honour to play for them.”
His last involvement with the Cayman Islands, for whom he has now made ten appearances, came in Colombia where they part of the Americas Rugby Challenge last August and it was a four nations tournament against the hosts, Mexico and Paraguay.