Dubai Rugby Sevens: Fiji crash out as Dubai College crowned Gulf Under 19 champs

A fake Freddie Mercury, the real Kylie Minogue, Dubai College champions again, and Fiji crash out, as the Sevens turns 50 in style

Jonathan Laugel of France (R) vies for the ball with Alasio Naduva (L) of Fiji during the HSBC Dubai Sevens Series men's rugby match between Fiji and France, at the Sevens Stadium in Dubai on December 6, 2019.  / AFP / KARIM SAHIB
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Over 50,000 people poured into the Dubai Rugby Sevens as the city’s leading sporting event celebrated its 50th anniversary in style.

Even with Kylie Minogue headlining the night with a live performance on Pitch Two, a Freddie Mercury tribute act, and a spectacular flypast by an Emirates A380, the rugby was still clearly the main attraction on a day of celebration.

The day’s play ended with world champions Fiji crashing out of the top competition at the pool stage for the first time ever.

And then South Africa reprised the success of their 15-a-side colleagues in the World Cup last month by beating England.

The tournament was encapsulated on Friday afternoon when everything that is good about the Dubai Sevens was crammed into one hour.

First, the defending champions New Zealand fell to a shock 19-14 defeat to France in the final pool match of the day in the Women’s World Series tournament.

The match itself represented the best of women’s rugby, with the result hinging on an extraordinary offloaded pass by France’s Coralie Bertrand.

South Africa's Justin Geduld runs with the ball against England during a match of the Emirates Airline Rugby Sevens in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Friday, Dec.6, 2019. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Bertrand’s pass split the New Zealand defence, giving Seraphine Okemba a run in to score, but she was also poleaxed in doing so.

It says much about the Black Ferns that one of their number waited to check Bertrand was fine instead of joining the pursuit of Okemba.

Immediately at the conclusion of that fixture, the rugby gave way to partying.

To celebrate a tournament that started in 1970, the atmosphere switched to disco mode.

A hundred dancers, many who were children wearing multi-coloured afro wigs, entered the field and bopped along to Disco Inferno.

The Freddie Mercury tribute act took over, and the stands were soon rocking to the strains of I want to Break Free.

And all of the non-rugby related celebrations were book-ended by flypasts by an Emirates A380, which was bearing Dubai Rugby Sevens livery on its side.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 06: Uri Barrutieta of Spain passes the ball during the match between Spain and Kenya on Day Two of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series - Dubai at The Sevens Stadium on December 6, 2019 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

This tournament is famously wedded to its past, and the amateur ideals of rugby.

As such, instead of returning straight to the elite professionals of the world series, the next match on Pitch One was the final of the Gulf Under 19 tournament.

It pitted together the two outstanding rugby schools in the city, Dubai College and Dubai English Speaking College.

Two tries by Matthew Johnston and one by Sam Muller helped DC overturn an early try, as they won 17-10 to retain the trophy they had won 12 months earlier.

“I can’t even explain how this feels,” Sebastian Snaas, the DC captain, said.

“Coming to this tournament, the boys were nervous. At the start of the season, we weren’t necessarily the favourites coming in.

“To win this this year is such an honour, especially for us boys in Year 13 who are leaving. It means so much to us to represent the school.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 06: Ben Harris of England is tackled by Justin Geduld of South Africa during the match between England and South Africa on Day Two of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series - Dubai at The Sevens Stadium  on December 06, 2019 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

“It’s my third year in the final. In the first we lost, and were completely destroyed. It was so sad.

“Last year we had both our A team and B team in the final, and this year, to come out and win, against the odds, is so amazing.”

DC’s win was the precursor to an evening of drama in the men’s international tournament, as world series champions Fiji failed to make it to the cup quarter finals for the first time in Dubai.

Even though they beat France 24-14 in their final pool match, the Fijians finished third in their pool, behind both the French and Argentina, who had beaten them earlier in the day.

France’s success in progressing, allied to the excellence of their women, marked a fine day for French sevens.

“It was a difficult group, but we have been training a lot and we wanted to prove we were among the best teams,” said Terry Bouhraoua, France’s longest serving player.

“It was very important for us to make the quarter-final, and we even finished in first place, which is very good for us. It is an excellent way to start the season.

“It is a good dynamic, because we work a lot and I know the women work a lot, too.

"Now, we want to put on the field what we have trained. For the first tournament, it is a good first day.”

In the final match of the evening, South Africa overturned an early 14-0 deficit to beat England 19-14, with Justin Geduld scoring two tries, and Ryan Oosthuizen the other.

England will now play France in the first quarter-final on Saturday. The second match will be a repeat of last year’s final, as defending champions New Zealand take on United States.

South Africa will face Argentina while Australia take on Samoa.