Divided in Doha, united in Dubai: Team GB get set for new era in sevens

Collective side will represent England, Wales and Scotland when the World Sevens Series returns to UAE this weekend

Great Britain captain Robbie Fergusson, bottom, has been busy keeping the peace between the England and Wales players in the squad following their clash at the football World Cup. AFP
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Thousands of sports fans from Britain have already filled one stadium in the Middle East this week.

Much to the chagrin of the travelling Welsh supporters, England were comfortable winners when the two sides met at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Doha at the World Cup on Tuesday night.

Three days later, fans of both countries will have to play nice in the scaffolding stands at the Dubai Rugby Sevens, seeing as they will be backing the same team this time around.

For the second year in a row, there will be no England, Wales or Scotland at the Sevens. Instead, they will be represented by a collective Great Britain side.

GB played the first two legs of the World Series last season in Dubai. It was then dissolved into its constituent parts for the remaining events. Now, though, they have been thrown together again, and this time for good.

The top four sides on the series this season will gain automatic qualification for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. In the past, England were nominated to play for qualification on GB’s behalf.

It was decided ahead of this season that GB would join the series full time, nominally to give themselves more time together ahead of the Olympics, but also because of budgeting constraints.

Perhaps luckily in this week of all weeks, the men’s side are captained by a Scotsman, Robbie Fergusson. It meant he could be an impartial arbiter between his side’s ranks of English and Welshmen during the big match in Qatar.

“That is part of the bonding process,” Fergusson said. “You get to know the boys, and they are all passionate about their home countries.

“But we are all very passionate about driving this as well. A lot of that comes from the off-field culture, taking little bits from the Welsh, little bits from the Scottish, little bits from the English, and merging it all together.

“We all know each other well from before, but there is still rivalry. You still have your home nation part of your heart.

“We are not trying to be something different. It is about integrating all of the teams and finding common threads in terms of the way we work as a Great Britain team.”

It was confirmed in July GB would join the series, and Fergusson acknowledged the new entity is still finding its feet.

“In sevens in general, you live year by year on your contracts,” said Fergusson, who also has a role in the set up as a technical skills coach.

“There was a lot of stress last year because we were waiting on this decision. We all knew it was coming. The boys’ contracts were up in September, and we didn’t actually get new contracts till later on, so there were gaps in employment.

“As a playing group, we are trying to focus on the rugby side of things and control what we can, because there are a lot of moving parts off the pitch.

“We were only set up six to eight weeks ago. We are still looking for sponsors, funding, and there are all things like that happening in the background.”

Fergusson pointed out the minting of a new GB team is another sign of how sevens and XVs are moving apart, and he hopes the abridged format can become the goal for aspiring players in future.

“Hopefully by becoming Great Britain sevens we can drive the ambitions of young players to want to play sevens as a goal,” he said.

“That is massive within our group because we want to inspire that next generation to come and play sevens by seeing us be successful, going to Olympics.

“The Olympics is a huge thing for any athlete. To have that there should incentivise a lot of people.”

GB face the toughest possible challenge in Dubai this weekend.

Updated: November 30, 2022, 9:53 AM