Playing in a Pitch 1 final at Dubai Rugby Sevens: 'All of a sudden you feel like an ant'

DESC hope to repeat trip back to the main field when they attempt to defend Gulf U19 Boys title

Dubai English Speaking College captain Tayne Stannard. Victor Besa / The National
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The chance to play on Pitch 1 in the front of a crowd of thousands in a Saturday final is the goal for hundreds of rugby players who play at the Dubai Sevens.

It is an opportunity afforded to few, and can be the highlight of a rugby career for those who achieve it. Especially those who do so alongside a group of their closest mates from school.

When Dubai English Speaking College start their Gulf Under 19 Boys title defence on Thursday, making it back to the main field will be driving them.

A number of players from the winning squad from last year have since moved on. But senior players and rookies alike all have the same aspiration.

“I was watching and thought, ‘I want to be there’,” said Mattia Coviello, a newcomer to the DESC squad this year. “The players who did play said it was just an amazing thing to be a part of.”

Tayne Stannard, the DESC captain, says the players will never forget the feeling of their cup final win against Dubai College in last year’s final.

“The most amazing part of the experience is when you are in the tunnel before and you can feel the energy and the crowd around you,” Stannard said.

“It was something we had never experienced before. Funnily enough, we were very confident as a team. It was us lined up, with DC on the south side, and we all remember they were all peaking around looking at us.

“We felt from that moment we had won the game. Then you run out on to the field and there are thousands of people around you.

“All of a sudden you feel like an ant. Playing in front of your friends and family in something like that is something we will never forget. Being able to do it as one team is really amazing.”

George Hipperson, who, like Stannard, is back to help try to defend DESC’s title this weekend, said the immediate prelude to playing on the main field is nerve-racking.

“During the warm up on Pitch 2, we were really nervous,” said Hipperson, 17, who recently debuted for the senior UAE national team on the Asian Sevens Series.

“We went in the tunnel and all the nerves went away when we were lining up and everyone was geeing each other up.

“I switched off a little bit as it is amazing running out in front of 20-odd thousand people. We got in the huddle and got into the game mindset.”

According to George Cliffe, the DESC coach, last year’s title win was a watershed one for the school. DESC had won the Gulf U19 Boys title at the Sevens before, but the 2021 success was the first time they had beaten Dubai College – the most successful side in the competition’s history – in doing so.

“It was a monkey on our backs, the fact we had never beaten DC at the Sevens before,” Cliffe said.

“It appeared to be a big thing for some of the boys mentally. We have broken that duck, and now it isn’t a thing, and it doesn’t have to be spoken about again.”

Stannard said there will be a target on his side’s back this weekend, but believes the side will be better for the experience of last year.

“There is obviously pressure to retain our title, but we do have a little experience,” Stannard said.

“There are also youngsters, and it is our job as senior players to make sure we go through the system with them, as we did last year.

“Nothing changes. We don’t go in knowing that we have won it before. It is a clean slate. It doesn’t change how hard we work, or change anything about how we play.

“We have one job to do, and that is win it again.”

Updated: November 29, 2022, 12:47 PM