Dubai Rugby Sevens preview: Speaking with the Australia women’s team

Australia’s women, who are the defending champions in Dubai, had a cricket bat lodged against the goalposts while they trained at Dubai College on Wednesday, writes Paul Radley.
The teams line up prior to the Dubai Rugby Sevens World Series Final between Fiji and South Africa, at The Sevens, Dubai, on the 30th of November 2013. Jake Badger / The National
The teams line up prior to the Dubai Rugby Sevens World Series Final between Fiji and South Africa, at The Sevens, Dubai, on the 30th of November 2013. Jake Badger / The National

Celebrating Phil Hughes

Australia’s women, who are the defending champions in Dubai, had a cricket bat lodged against the goalposts while they trained at Dubai College yesterday. The session started shortly after the conclusion of Phil Hughes’s funeral back at home, and the players were moved by it.

“It was such a tragic accident that shook the world of sport, not just Australia,” said Sharni Williams, the Australia captain.

Put out your bat

After training, the side staged an impromptu game of cricket with the bat they brought to use as part of the worldwide #putoutyourbats tribute. Williams had a perfect fast-bowler’s action.

“I grew up in the country, too, loved cricket, and we were the same age,” the team captain said of Hughes. “I’ve watched cricket since I was eight, played it and was the only girl in the boys team in hometown right up until year 12.”

Stolen bat

The women’s side always take a cricket bat on tour, but their old faithful has been commandeered by the men’s team this weekend, so they bought a new one in Dubai.

The men’s side, who are in a tough group with England, Kenya and the United States, also watched the televised service for Hughes. “I saw Michael Clarke’s eulogy on the internet. I think everybody in sport would have been thinking of him this week,” said Cameron Clark, the men’s captain.

The defenders

Australia won the women’s title in Dubai 12 months ago with an extraordinary comeback in the second half of the final against New Zealand, and they are hopeful of a repeat.

“We have prepared very well, have some young girls coming through,” Williams said.

“We also have some girls here who have won it before, and having the belief that stems from that is massive to have over teams. We dug deep to win that final and that is what Aussie spirit is about.”

Olympic focus

It was no surprise that a number of the Australia side proved to be adept cricketers. The Australian union have made a conscious effort to scour other sports to find talented athletes for their sevens programme. It is all with the first sevens Olympics tournament, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, in mind.

Thanks to funding from the Australian Olympic committee and the rugby union, women are playing professionally in Australia for the first time. “This is the best preparation we have ever had,” said Tim Walsh, the coach of the women’s side.

BEST GAMES TO WATCH

Thursday, 9am, Pitch 2: Xodus Steelers v Krasnoyars, International Vets

There are plenty of recognisable faces in the international 10s tournament for 35-and-overs, and the Xodus Steelers are the defending champions. With the likes of former Scotland Test players Jason White, Simon Taylor and Scott Murray, they have tons of experience. New recruit Bruce Reihana provides the flair.

Thursday, 3.40pm, Pitch 3: Gulf Legends v J9 Legends, International Vets

Some of Arabian Gulf rugby’s finest servants will face several stars of the past. If they come away with all their bones intact, they should be happy. Brian “The Chiropractor” Lima and Viliame “The Stretcher” Satala lie in wait with J9.

Thursday, 6.42pm, Pitch 1: England v Canada, Women’s World Series

The two nations met in the World Cup final of the 15-a-side game earlier this year, with England winning. Many who played that day are here this weekend.

Friday, 11.14am, Pitch 1: England v United States, World Series

A first chance to see the two American fliers, Carlin Isles and Perry Baker, in harness. Mike Friday, the US coach, will be keen to get one over his former protege, Simon Amor. The duo were coach and captain when England won back-to-back Dubai titles in 2004 and 2005.

Friday, 11.20am, Pitch 6: English College v Dubai College, Gulf U18 Boys

The Dubai Sevens gives ample scope to view rugby’s past, present and future. It is one of the oldest in the local age-group competition. While the rest have caught up with English College in recent years, Dubai College have maintained their status as the leading rugby school in the region.

Friday, 6.31pm, Pitch 1: Women’s World Series final

Friday culminates in the final of the two-day women’s competition. Australia are the defending champions, having stunned New Zealand 35-27 in last year’s showpiece, but the likes of England and Canada will be expecting to challenge this time around.

Saturday, 12.30pm, Pitch 1: International Veterans final

Last year’s corresponding fixture provided one of the most enduring images in the storied history of the Sevens. J9 Legends lost out after the buzzer, before Waisale Serevi pushed the wheelchair-bound former South Africa scrum-half Joost van der Westhuizen, who has ALS, through a tunnel of applauding ex-Test players.

Saturday, 3.25pm, Pitch 1: Gulf Men’s League final

Jebel Ali Dragons have owned this competition for most of the recent past, with six wins in 10 years. However, they were toppled in the domestic Premiership season in XVs, then lost in the national sevens series to the resurgent Abu Dhabi Harlequins. Al Ain Amblers may also be a threat.

Saturday, 8.12pm, Pitch 1: World Series final

DJ Otzi. Neil Diamond. The Way to Amarillo. The Aggreko Dynamos. The scaffolding stands. The most exciting talent in rugby’s fastest format. What is not to love about the Dubai Rugby Sevens? Maybe only the final whistle, because that means it’s all over.

pradley@thenational.ae

Follow our sports coverage on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 3, 2014 04:00 AM

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