Dubai Sevens: Henry Paul and Mike Wernham hope to restore Dubai Hurricanes to past glories

Former champions have struggled since Covid but are aiming for a brighter future, starting with this weekend

Dubai Hurricanes head coach Henry Paul, left, and returning club director Mike Wernham. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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When Covid brought an abrupt halt to world sport, as well as everything else, one of its many effects was to end the longest sequence in UAE sporting history.

For the first time in 51 years, there would be no Emirates Dubai Sevens. The absence of a tournament which predates the formation of the country was sorely felt.

By the time rugby restarted after the pandemic, the landscape had altered. Some slipped straight back into the old routine. South Africa, for example, have won the main event three times in two years since the tournament resumed.

Others faltered. Dubai Hurricanes were the region’s leading force in the abridged format before Covid, winning titles in 2018 and 2019.

They were deprived of a three-peat by the pandemic, and have struggled to get moving since. Last season, one of the region’s biggest clubs did not even field a team in the Premiership for XVs. Neither have they returned to a sevens final.

Now they are fighting back, having assembled a coaching team who know what it is like to taste success at the Sevens.

Mike Wernham, who was the club’s director of rugby when they went back-to-back in 2018 and 2019, has returned.

And the team’s coach is Henry Paul, the former England player who tasted title glory at the Sevens before it was even played at its current site.

Paul was part of the winning England side in the world series tournament back in 2005, which was played at the old Dubai Exiles ground in Al Awir.

He first moved to Dubai in 2016 to dovetail working at a school with coaching Jebel Ali Dragons. He spent four years with Canada’s XVs and sevens sides but returned to Dubai at the start of this year.

“I’m really excited to see what the future holds here for me,” Paul said. “We have six or seven guys who have played for UAE in the past and are fringe players now. They are raring to go. Some have won the Sevens before, others haven’t.

“We have a crack squad and we are really lucky to have this type of quality, but it is a really tough comp. Everyone wants to win it because it is such a great event, so we are not taking anything for granted.”

Hurricanes play JESS in practice game for Dubai 7s

All the sides entering the Gulf Men’s event at the Sevens are of a similar mind. With the likes of Saki Naisau, Niko Volavola and Charlie Taylor in their ranks, defending champs Dubai Tigers will remain the team to beat.

But, with enough personnel still around from the back-to-back winning years, Wernham is hopeful the Hurricanes can make an impression on the competition. He says he is intent on helping the club back towards the top echelons of Gulf rugby, having returned at the start of this season.

“I had been up to watch and it was breaking my heart,” Wernham said of being absent from the club after stepping away for personal reasons.

We have a crack squad and we are really lucky to have this type of quality, but it is a really tough comp
Henry Paul, Dubai Hurricanes coach

“It is a big passion of mine, given the amount of time I had put in with these lads. The whole club, with the way it is run and its ethos, I was missing it.”

Their prospects have been buoyed by the return of Boris Finck, the captain last time Hurricanes won it, who was absent from the sevens last year.

“I remember looking at Boris and the look in his eye was like a boy going to Disneyland for the first time, then it was the same with the 11 players behind him,” Wernham said of the title wins.

“I would love to be able to see that image again. We are not going to be spoken about much and that is great. That is how we won it the first year.

“I am just really, really excited about watching this team play sevens. The depth is going to make a big difference for us.

“Trying to get on Pitch 1 [for the final] is not easy. I am talking about us really positively but I know the strength the other clubs have got. It is going to be exciting.”

Updated: November 30, 2023, 7:38 AM