3,000 plus miles from the coast of England, 650 miles from the United States, a dot of some 22 sq.miles in the Atlantic, the tip of an undersea mountain range…how could this small group of Islands become an attraction for so many international rugby players out of the top drawer of the game?
Hardly a bastion of rugby, or so you would think!
Well to answer that you have to cast your mind back to rugby in the early 1970’s when the only opportunity for an international rugby player to travel to “exotic” places was as part of the national team or be selected for the Lions tours to Australia, New Zealand or South Africa.
Bermuda changed that thinking!
From the early seventies Bermuda has played host to many of the world’s most famous international players and it all started with the Easter Classic which involved just one match on Easter Sunday: the Bermuda-Irish against Bermuda.
International players, augmenting the local players, would fly in on a Thursday, enjoy a couple of days of Bermuda’s famous hospitality, play the game on the Sunday and then continue with the hospitality until they flew out on Tuesday, somewhat bleary-eyed but with some great memories.
Easter Sunday at the Classic quickly became a Bermuda tradition with a champagne brunch and some wonderful rugby. It was the start of Corporate Hospitality in Bermuda.
At that time of the year the Barbarians Tour to Wales was the only other rugby event over Easter and as an England captain was quoted as saying; “Which would you prefer, three tough games in Wales or a one match tour to Bermuda? Not a difficult choice?”
And at one point in time eight of the most capped players in the world had played in the Easter Classic, an annual event which lasted 21 years.
Many long-lasting friendships were built over the years and in 1988 the first World Rugby Classic, reaching out to many of those players, was started.
And so Bermuda quickly became the meeting place for many players from all around the world, who had played against each other over the years and were now given the opportunity to renew old friendships and make new ones.
And so they came and will continue to do so.
Twenty-one Easter Classics and twenty-five World Rugby Classics attracting, over the years, some of the greatest names in the sport to a little island in the Atlantic.
1988.“The business community, financial institutions, and local and international companies, together with the Department of Tourism, are to be congratulated for their foresight and support of this tournament.” Sir John Swan, Premier of Bermuda
“You have stolen a the march on the British Isles authorities who should have been developing such an event” Ian Robertson, Rugby Correspondent for BBC Television.
“A former international’s event has been placed, much to the chagrin of wives, loved ones or both as the thought of washing dirty gear, usually hidden for four or five days to ferment, for another 15 years boggles the mind” John Kane
“I have no doubt that, during the next week, many tales will be told on many parts of the Island. For us veterans of the Island it is great to be back amongst such crazy people. For the “Island Virgins” ( first trippers) hold on to your hats. Steve Smith, captain of England
“I have the happiest memory of my two visits to the Easter Classic: one as a player and one as coach to the Bermuda-Irish team. I think we may have lost on both occasions!”
Willie John McBride. Captain of Ireland and the Lions, and President of the Classic Lions.
“There are many phrases my wife dreads hearing; “I’m popping out for a quick pint” or “I think I can fix it myself”and “let’s have an early night”
There is now another in her black book: “Excuse me a moment John Kane is on the phone” and Bermuda beckons. John Rutherford, Scotland the Lions.
“My experiences in Bermuda will never be forgotten. Thank you for giving me a brilliant experience”
Jeremy Guscott, England & the Lions
“What will stay with me is the great memories of 5-star hospitality, wonderful people and a very well-run event”
Francois Pienaar, Captain of South Africa
“It is a wonderful event which I have always enjoyed, kudos to the entire team”
Michael Douglas, Academy Award Winner