Bahamian Carlene Johnson has returned from playing in the Dubai International Invitational Tournament 2018 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and is looking to use the experience gained to improve the level of play for both herself and her local teammates.
Johnson is one of the stellar female rugby players in The Bahamas. She was selected to play for the United States-based Phoenix Rugby Sevens team in Dubai. The team won one game and lost the other two.
Playing out of Pool A, the Phoenix Rugby Sevens lost their final two games to Ireland Development and Tribe Sevens. They defeated Germany, 10-0.
Despite her team not making the finals, the former track and field athlete did manage to score for her team on her first attempt. That score came against the Tribe Sevens squad.
The women’s rugby national team player said the competition that she encountered was very challenging.
“It was good. It was faster and coming back home, I feel like I am on a whole other level. I learnt so many new things and certain things from each player. Overall, the competition was on another level,” Johnson said.
Johnson said one of the most important things that she learnt is that she needs to be relaxed and disciplined.
“I learnt to support my team and do my job and not do anybody else’s job. When you take on a position that is not yours, it will cost your team. I learnt to relax, be disciplined, and play my game,” said Johnson.
She acknowledged that the women she played with and against are professionals and do this for a living.
“They eat, sleep and think about rugby. They travel more and I realized a group of the women travel together. It is an ongoing thing for them,” she said. “ Back home, it is just practicing twice a week and a game on the weekends. I found out that I played with professionals – people who tried the Olympics before, so it was on another level.”
Johnson said she realized that the coach, Eyal ‘Coach Ale’ Hakim, was a little hesitant to put her in the game. She said she was anxious and made a mistake but he told her to just play her game and she complied.
“At first, ‘Coach Ale’ was like ‘should I put her in the game’. Being a new player to the team, he had to feel me out at first. When he first put me on, I was a bit anxious. I used my speed because I did not want to make any mistakes. At one instance I was moving so fast the opposing team did a quick slant and I missed my tackle – I beat myself down hard for that mistake. I went to him and asked him how I played and he told me to just play my game and stop being anxious to prove a point,” she said.
The prideful Johnson said that more Bahamians can have the opportunity that she had.
“I do feel that there are more Bahamians who can have an opportunity to do the same thing that I did,” she said. “They just have to work hard toward their goals and what it is that they really want to do. Rugby is something that I didn’t love – I grew to love rugby. Every day I learnt something new, and I took advantage of it. I worked hard toward it to get even better because I wanted more. There is nothing amazing that they did that us as Bahamians cannot do. Once we work hard for something we automatically stand out to be the best. I feel we are at their level of play and we just have to practice more and work harder to get to the ultimate level.”
Like every other sport in The Bahamas, Johnson thinks that they need more support for them to experience success. She hopes the government shows some support for women’s rugby and have it more exposed to the Bahamian people so others could be a part of the growth movement.
Johnson got involved with Phoenix Rugby Sevens through her national team coach Kevin Salabie. He said the coach for the Phoenix Rugby Sevens team was interested in a few of the national team players. After their trip to Barbados earlier in the year where she had a great tournament, Johnson put together a video and sent it to several teams including the Phoenix Rugby Sevens. The coach decided to select Johnson.
She is continuing her stint with the team. They will be making three appearances in Europe in June and July of 2019, playing in France, Belgium and Switzerland.