Dubai Tigers on prowl for sevens success in Gulf Men's League after President's Cup win

UAE's youngest top-flight club will be able to call on 'Fijian Flyers' for tournament at weekend

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When the domestic XVs rugby season went into hibernation at the start of November to make way for sevens instead, the youngest top-flight club might have felt a little miffed.

After all, Dubai Tigers were on a roll. They had claimed the best win of their short history to date in beating city neighbours Dubai Exiles. They were top of the West Asia Premiership, and flying high with three bonus points wins from three games.

Then all that momentum was halted by the switch to the abridged format.

They headed down the road to Abu Dhabi for the first President’s Cup – a new, two-day competition designed to give sides a tune-up leading in to the highlight of the season, the Dubai Sevens – with modest expectations.

Their three leading short-format players – Saki Naisau, Emosi Vecanuau and Niko Volavola – were away on international duty with the UAE. And yet they ended up winning that trophy, too.

Still, though, you will struggle to get them to talk up their chances of going one better than last year, when they were runners-up to the Exiles at the Sevens, in the Gulf Men’s League tournament next weekend.

Peter Kelly, their director of rugby, says they have done nothing to shout about yet, while Charlie Taylor, who captained them to President’s Cup success, points out other teams were shorn of their best players, too.

“The President’s Cup is a new competition they put together as part of the lead-up to Dubai Sevens, and we were without our three UAE boys, our Fijian Flyers,” Taylor said.

“We knew it was going to be a tough few days, because we were without some keys players – but some of the other teams were as well.

“We were fortunate to win. We thought we had a small chance, but without those three stars, we weren’t counting on doing it. The boys stuck together well, and the biggest thing was our defence.

“We worked together really well and worked for each other. That is the thing about the Tigers, and it is what it came down to in the end.”

The boys stuck together well. We really worked for each other. That is the thing about the Tigers.
Charlie Taylor, Tigers' President's Cup captain

The Tigers one-downmanship should not hide the fact they must be considered among the favourites to contest the final on Pitch 1 at 3.23pm on Saturday. Especially with Naisau, Vecanuau and Volavola back, fresh from helping UAE to a first Asian Sevens Series competition final, in Al Ain on Sunday.

The Gulf Men’s event has a new format, with the top two sides from one, seven-team pool set to advance to the showpiece match.

It represents the one opportunity domestic club players get to play on the main field at the Sevens. And yet for Taylor, at least, it is something he has experienced a number of times.

He played at the Sevens twice for Australia during a World Sevens Series career that ended at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

After that he was away from rugby completely for four years. When he did return – by now living in Dubai and with his new club, the Tigers – he suffered a broken leg in his first game back.

Now he has the chance for another go at the Sevens. “In terms of the crowd, Dubai, Sydney and Hong Kong are the three biggest events, and you can’t really hear yourself much on the field as the crowd is going wild,” Taylor said.

The Gulf Men’s competition side are one of six that the Tigers will have playing in the various events at the Sevens.

Kelly will be granted leave from his role as the strength and conditioning coach for Chennai Braves in the Abu Dhabi T10 to turn out for the club’s vets team.

“We have our own goals and we are focusing on those, and staying humble as well,” Kelly said.

“We have a good plan of how we want to run things. My role is to look at the long-term strategic approach to development, and working out how we can keep building, both in sevens and XVs.”

Updated: November 28, 2022, 4:53 AM