‘We cried before and after every game’: Speranza 22 celebrate 10 years at Dubai Sevens

From a one-off in 2013 to several title wins and over 250 players in the space of a decade

Marco Speranza, second from right, died in an aircraft crash in 2013, and his former Abu Dhabi Harlequins teammates formed Speranza 22 to honour him. Photo courtesy Rory Greene
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When a group of mates fixed a date in their diaries back in 2013 for a reunion to honour a friend who had recently died, it was meant to be for one weekend only.

A chance to get together and share some memories, as well as dust off the boots and throw a rugby ball around at the Emirates Dubai Sevens.

Ten years on, the side they created has morphed into a highly successful globetrotting sevens outfit that includes Olympic medal winners among its number.

Speranza 22 will be back at the Sevens this weekend for its 10th anniversary, with three teams set to feature.

It was set up by a group of teammates from the Abu Dhabi Harlequins side who had won the 2009 Gulf Under-18 tournament in Dubai.

Marco Speranza, who was part of that side, died in an air crash in his native Argentina earlier in 2013.

His mates have done a fine job of maintaining his memory. As well as being regulars in Dubai, the side have also become fixtures at Melrose, Amsterdam, Denver and Bournemouth sevens.

In excess of 250 players have represented them in the past decade, including the players who won the first Sevens gold at the Olympics in Rio in 2016.

In the next Games, two of their players – Amanaki Nicole of New Zealand and Fiji's Jiuta Wainiqolo – played against each other in the gold-medal final.

None of which was planned.

“It was going to be a one-off in 2013,” said Rory Greene, the manager of the S22 side who had been the coach of the 2009 Quins U18s.

“Then for all the reasons we did it, getting together with Orlando Speranza [Marco’s father] and the family, we thought, ‘Why don’t we do it again,’ the following year.

“It has just organically grown from there. It is like everything in life. You look at it and think, ‘How on earth did we get to where we are now?’

“It is definitely not by design. We didn’t sit there and think, ‘Right, in 10 years’ time we are going to be entering all the big tournaments in the world’.”

The team created one of the great memories in the long history of the Sevens by winning the International Invitational tournament on Pitch 1 in 2017.

The Invitational is the second highest tier competition at Dubai Sevens, and was played before the World Series finals in front of a packed crowd.

And yet Ignacio Costa, a former schoolmate of Marco’s and one of the originals, does not regard it as his personal No 1 memory of the decade of Speranza 22.

“My most special memory is, and I believe will always be, the first year when all the original boys were able to come along,” said Costa, who is back for this weekend although unable to play due to injury.

“That year was by far the most emotional with Marco’s passing being so raw. We cried before and after every game.”

On the bus on the way to the venue ahead of their first match, Marco’s sister Nadia, addressed the players.

“She said she had brought some of Marco’s personal belongings with her to Dubai all the way from Argentina,” Costa said.

“She wasn’t sure why but she did. During the night she had a dream and Marco appeared to her. In the dream Marco had told her what items he wanted her to give out to us.

“We all seemed to get things that were related to our friendship with Marco. I remember getting an outfit that we had bought together in Malaysia. If we weren’t crying before that, we definitely were then.”

The mates made it to the brink of the final only to fall just short, yet even defeat brought happy memories.

We had actually played our last two minutes with Marco on the field. Another round of tears. That memory still gives me goosebumps.
Igancio Costa

“By the time Speranza was created most of our boys had stopped playing rugby or were playing socially somewhere,” Costa said.

“We made the semis that year and lost to the eventual champions by one try.

“Out of all the most memorable moments the one that made us cry even more was after the last whistle of our semis. We played the last two minutes with a player less as one of the boys, Jason [de Broize], got carded.

“In our post-match huddle, Adam [Hughes], one of our coaches, looks around and started telling us how that yellow card was Marco tapping Jason on the shoulder and telling him to get off as he wanted some gametime with us.

“We had actually played our last two minutes with Marco on the field. Another round of tears. That memory still gives me goosebumps.”

Updated: November 29, 2023, 4:41 AM