Dubai Sevens hero Ricardo Duarttee: ‘It is a thousand times better than I ever imagined’

Debutant, who sold his car to chase his rugby dream, was sensational as South Africa claimed fourth successive Dubai title

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As the camera panned in front of South Africa’s players, each bellowing out Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika before the Emirates Dubai Sevens grand finale, it was clear one player was going to demand more attention than any others.

It had been the case for most of the weekend till that point on the field, too. Ricardo Duarttee was electric in his debut tournament in the green Blitzboks shirt. And, apparently his vocal cords are every bit as impressive as his dancing feet.

The broad grin he wore all through the anthems spoke of someone enjoying every moment of being an international rugby sevens player.

And well he might. After all, this time last year, he had all but given up on a career in the sport. He decided to give it one last crack, and sold his car so he could enroll in a sevens coaching programme. On the evidence of this weekend, it was one of the shrewdest investments imaginable.

“I started doing MMA and boxing, and was getting into that,” Duarttee, 24, said. "My coach sent me a message from Varsity Cup, and said [the South African Academy of Sport] is a good place to be seen. He sent me a pamphlet and it was R125,000 [$7,120] to go to this academy.

“I went to Philip [Snyman] who was the head coach of the academy back then and asked for a chat. He said I need a deposit of R60,000 [$3,400].

“I walked back to my car and thought, ‘Here is more than 60k.’ You only get one shot at this, one chance, and I wanted to give everything.

“If nothing happened of it, then it was not meant for me. But this was meant for me. God meant this for me.”

He downgraded his Hyundai Tucson N-Series, trading it in for something cheaper, but making sure he could still get to rugby training. He enlisted in the academy and impressed.

So much so, by the start of the new season, he had landed an SA Sevens contract. Dubai was his debut tournament – and it could not have gone much better. He was the breakout star of the Blitzboks’ latest title win.

“It has been way better – everything I imagined it would be, times by a thousand,” Duarttee said.

“I can only thank God for giving me this opportunity. To be able to sing the national anthem for the first time with this team is a massive experience.”

When he scored his first try for his national team, in the second game of the opening day’s pool play, he was mobbed by his teammates, with the sort of vigour usually reserved for a decisive, final-play winner.

The first player to him was James Murphy. Just as the 27-year-old Bok had promised.

Amid the euphoria of winning the Commonwealth Games gold in Birmingham last summer, Murphy had called his friend to tell him days like that would come for him, too.

And when they did, Murphy said he was going to be the first player to jump on Duarttee when he scored his first try.

“Every time someone scores their first try, everybody will congratulate him,” Duarttee said.

“It is a funny story. A few months ago, my friend James Murphy phoned me and said, ‘Brother, when you get your debut try, I am going to be there.’ And he was the first one there. It was such an amazing moment.”

Murphy was delighted with his mate’s success. “That academy is where people come for a last chance, and get scouted for contracts which aren’t officially part of [the national sevens set up],” Murphy said.

“We became close back then, where we stay and train. We have watched him grow, and off the field we have a great relationship. He is like a brother, and we share loads of stories.

“To share that moment with him was incredibly special, and something I won’t forget.”

His debut tournament might have had a dream ending, as the Boks beat Ireland in the final, but the rest of it had been special enough, the newcomer said.

“Before I got on the flight, my whole family was there to see me off,” Duarttee said. “They made me a banner, so even before the flight had left home, just getting this opportunity was emotional.

“Coming to Dubai there was an emotional moment, just coming in the room. I phoned my parents, then my girlfriend, and said, ‘I am going to Dubai.’ The emotions started pouring out of me.

“I can only thank my teammates. They have pushed me to bring out the best in me. And the system is something that always demands the best of you.”

Updated: December 04, 2022, 6:32 AM