When the famous faces who are playing in the International Vets tournament at the Dubai Rugby Sevens initially signed up for their jaunt to the UAE, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time.
Some winter sun. A little bit of rugby with old friends. The chance to share in the carnival of finals day on Pitch 1 with 50,000 other like-minded rugby folk.
Then you remember there is a reason you retired, someone says Serge Betsen will be playing against you, and it no longer seems like such an appealing prospect after all.
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“I’ve not even run for about five weeks, hence my lungs are about to explode,” Iain Balshaw, a World Cup-winner with England in 2003, said at end of the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation (CNCF) team run on Tuesday.
Now 38, the former England and British & Irish Lions fullback, who has barely played for the past two years, will be representing the charity side for the first time in the 10-a-side competition for 35-and-overs.
CNCF are the most successful side in the history of the Vets event, and they have pulled out all the stops to reclaim the crown they lost to J9 Legends last year.
Along with Balshaw, they have other internationals of repute, like Dafydd James, Ollie Barkley, and Elvis Seveali’i, plus the all-time leading point-scorer in sevens, Ben Gollings. Simon Shaw, a 71-cap England forward who went on three Lions tours, is also set to be the side’s water boy.
If the CNCF all-stars are expecting a flat track to the final, though, they can think again. The Serge Betsen Academy Pirates lie in wait at 9am on Friday morning, and the bruising former France great is keen to make an impact.
“That’ll be really tasty, the French against the English,” Balshaw said, of the reunion with Betsen. “I’ll keep well away from him, that’s for sure.”
Balshaw says the players have been brought together for a charitable cause, and the best way to further enhance awareness about the foundation would be to succeed in the tournament.
“It is social, but when it comes to game day, we know we want to win it,” Balshaw said. “We are all ex-professional sportsmen, we all have that winning mentality, and it wraps nicely around the charity.”
The Foundation works to alleviate child poverty in Vietnam and Mongolia.
“There is a purpose for us being here, which is to help the charity, but for us as rugby people and ex-professionals, we still have that urge to play for something,” Seveali’i said. “There is a trophy up for grabs.”