Dubai Sevens: Hurricanes veteran not stopping despite Pitch 1 final success over Falcons

Mother-of-five Elke Vinck tastes victory on main field as Dubai side avenge last year's loss to local rivals

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A former international judoka won a Pitch 1 final at the Dubai Sevens on Saturday for the first time aged 45 – then vowed to play on until she can repeat the feat while playing in the same team as her daughter.

Elke Vinck was part of the all-conquering Dubai Hurricanes side who took the Gulf Women’s tournament with a 29-0 win over Dubai Falcons, the outgoing champions, in the final.

The Hurricanes, who also topped the table in the regular season of women’s domestic rugby, conceded just one try in the tournament, in their semi-final win over Egypt Rugby.

For Vinck, Pitch 1 glory might have provided a fitting swansong to her 16-year career with the Hurricanes. She is not planning to stop there, though.

Her next ambition is to play the Sevens as part of the same line up as the eldest of her five children, 18-year-old daughter Louka Blommaert.

It would have happened this year, only for Louka to suffer a recurrence of a dislocated shoulder two weeks ahead of the event. And her participation next year is dependent on other factors.

She is part of the Belgium national team set up. If they make it onto the World Sevens Series, or bring a side to Dubai to play in an invitational competition, that might supersede her playing for Hurricanes.

Her mother remains optimistic, though. “Belgium gave her permission to play this year, but she got injured just before,” said Vinck, whose 16-year-old twin sons played for the Hurricanes in the Gulf U19 Boys tournament this weekend.

“Of course, if they don’t give her permission, I have four other children to pick from.”

Vinck’s legacy in Gulf rugby is remarkable, given she only took up the sport after moving to Dubai, having previously represented Belgium at international level in judo.

“I was 29 when I moved here and the level of judo was pretty basic,” Vinck said.

“I thought, ‘Let’s try something else.' I started to play rugby, and I loved it from Day 1.

“Training with a team from a certain age, I did not want to let the team down. If it is an individual sport, you might think, ‘Oh, I won’t bother with training’. But I haven’t missed a training session.

“I can’t not be there, because then the rest cannot train. Also, at my age, playing a team sport, the motivation is better. If my body agrees, I will keep going.”

So long has she been playing for Hurricanes, Vinck can remember the days when the Women’s final was played on the main field as a matter of course. She was glad to be back there.

“I have won the final before, but never on Pitch 1,” she said.

“First of all, it was amazing to run out of the tunnel, no matter the outcome. But to win it, of course, is a little extra on top.

“Last year, because it had been a long time since we’d played on Pitch 1, I was super nervous. This time, I didn’t let it get into my head, and I didn’t feel any of our girls did.

“The whole weekend, as Hurricanes, we have played to our top level. We played as a unit, and when we came out for the final, we just went for it.”

Hannah Underhill, the victorious captain, said her side were glad to avenge the final defeat to the Falcons 12 months earlier.

“We pretty much cleaned up last year but we missed out on the Sevens, and that was really gutting,” Underhill said.

“It was a little bit of a grudge match, but we proved that relationships do the business.

“It is really good that women get to play on Pitch 1 as well. When we won two years ago, we were only on Pitch 2, and this year they decided to move it back, which is massive.

“It makes it a bigger occasion. For us, we are not professional rugby players. We are amateurs, all teachers, mums, normal people, and it is just about playing with our mates, so it is fantastic to be able to play on Pitch 1.”

Updated: December 03, 2022, 11:31 AM