The National’s Paul Radley will cover his 10th Dubai Sevens this year. He offers the five standouts that stick out most prominently in his memory.
Tom Varndell, England (2005)
Anyone who saw this vision of athletic perfection make his bow at the old Exiles ground will remember it. The first player to debut in England XVs before doing so in the short format, he arrived in Dubai as the top scorer in the Premiership and having scored in a Test against Samoa. He summarily tore it up in Dubai, becoming the player of the tournament as England won a second successive title.
Stefan Basson, South Africa (2006)
The 2006 tournament was memorable chiefly for the apocalyptic rainfall than turned the Exiles fields into a quagmire. One thing that can usually be guaranteed by the Dubai Sevens is dry conditions and a flat track for the best players to show their wares. This time around the skills were dulled by the mud, but Basson was so talented he continued to thrive. The playmaker oversaw a title win for South Africa.
DJ Forbes, New Zealand (2009)
New Zealand’s captain is due a long-service award, but he probably would not have any room in his trophy cabinet for it. He has raised the Emirates International Trophy at the old ground and the new one. His 2009 win is probably the most precious. His son Titus had just been born, and he greeted his final try with a rock-the-baby celebration. “Even changing nappies, I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
Imad Reyal, UAE (2011)
The personification of the sevens ethos. On Thursday morning, the Sri Lankan IT consultant switched off his computer at his office in Deira. The next day, he was selling the most audacious dummy imaginable, which the whole Samoan defence bought, on his way to the tryline in front of 40,000 people on Pitch 1. The amateur spirit may be dying out from the world series competition, but Reyal’s debut will live long in the memory.
Waisale Serevi, J9 Legends (2013)
The abridged format’s one real iconic player. Even Ben Gollings, the Englishman who is out on his own as the leading point-scorer in history, defers to the great Fijian. They are business partners in a company known as “Serevi Rugby” because of what the name evokes. Serevi was back last year as part of Joost van der Westhuizen’s charity side. The goose-step and the love of the big stage endures.
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