Dubai Exiles celebrate return to Sevens glory on Golden Jubilee weekend

Captain Justin Walsh says the club who first created the tournament wanted to make a statement with vicory in Men's Gulf League final

On the weekend when UAE was celebrating its Golden Jubilee, it seemed appropriate the rugby club that gave the country its most enduring sports event should return to the winners’ podium.

Even more fitting, still, that their longest serving player should guide them to it.

Justin Walsh first joined Dubai Exiles aged four. He was their captain as the club – which predates the formation of the UAE itself by five years – beat Dubai Tigers 24-12 in the final of the Gulf Men’s League at the Emirates Dubai Sevens.

“I’ve been with Exiles since I was four, so it is 25 or 26 years playing with them,” Walsh said.

“I’ve been in four finals on the main pitch and won two, so very chuffed with this. Being captain this time, it means a lot more. We have worked hard this season to build a culture.

“We have a lot of young boys, and we have been trying to build and build and build, and to put all the pieces together in a final like that is good.”

After Exiles took the lead at the start of the game, Walsh was given two minutes to think about the size of the occasion, as he was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle.

His side then went another man down after Jaen Botes followed him to the naughty step. And yet, the five who were left did not just survive, but they thrived.

Dubai Exiles' Jaen Botes celebrates the win with Justin Walsh. Chris Whiteoak / The National

They kept possession with such skill that, by the time Walsh returned to the fray, he found himself on the receiving end of a pass which left him with the task of rampaging over the line for Exiles’ second score.

“I literally ran on, and as I was running on, I got the offload from Conor [Kennedy], and had a bit of a point to prove,” said the former Wellington International School and Jumeirah College schoolboy.

“We have got better and better every game. We just wanted to put our front foot forward. It means a lot to me, and it means a lot to the club.

“This is a second home for me. We wanted to go out there and make a statement and do things well.”

Walsh was one of four players who were part of the side the last time the Exiles won the title, back in 2017, along with Botes, Matt Mills, and Carel Thomas.

“It was a tougher final this year, for sure,” Mills said.

“We have a nice balance, with a few old heads in the squad and some up and coming youngsters there, too, to provide pace. It fired today.”

Updated: December 4th 2021, 10:40 AM