Dubai Sevens: Speranza 22 look at the positives as Blitzbok stars reign supreme

Rodrigo Costa proud of his team's effort against SA 7s side in the International Invitational category

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When Rodrigo Costa returns to the classroom next week in his role as a substitute teacher in Auckland, he will be able to tell his kids about playing against three of the all-time greats of sevens. And how he nearly beat them, too.

“I’ll go back and tell the little kids about how I played against Cecil Afrika, and they will love it,” Costa said. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to say I won.”

It is 10 years now since Costa and his two brothers played alongside Marco Speranza for Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in a side that won the Gulf Under 19s at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

The Argentine mates went their separate ways in the years after. The Costas went to New Zealand, while Speranza went back to Argentina to train to be a pilot.

He died in an air accident in 2013. Now his old mates assemble every year at the Sevens to play in his honour.

They do so with great distinction, too. In 2017, their scratch side of mates from New Zealand won the International Invitational, which is one tier down from the main World Sevens Series event.

To emphasise just what an achievement that was, when they reached the semi-final of the same competition this year, they went up against an SA 7s Academy side of phenomenal pedigree.

They had in their ranks nine full Blitzboks internationals, including two former world players of the year – Afrika and Werner Kok – plus the most-capped South Africa player ever, Branco du Preez.

And yet Speranza 22 could have beaten them, had they taken their chances.

They eventually went down 17-14, and SA 7s, many of whom will likely feature in their first team at the Olympics next year, went on to win the final easily.

“We have seen them play so many times on TV, and it was the game that we were waiting for all tournament, the one all the boys wanted to play,” Costa said.

“We didn’t want to over-respect the South African jersey.

“We put a lot of emphasis on playing as if we are just playing in the park, the idea being we just remember Marco and what it is like when we were together 10 years ago.

“It was just for the love of it, about having a good time with your friends. It is like we are kids playing in the park with our mates.

"It is just about making Speranza proud."