The Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors know that having a World Cup winner in their ranks is no guarantee of success at the Dubai Rugby Sevens. But they hope it will at least help them look dapper at next weekend’s competition.
Last year, the Abu Dhabi-based charity side went out in the quarter-final in the International Social tournament at the Sevens. That was despite the fact they had Josh Lewsey, who won the World Cup with England in 2003, in their side.
Lewsey will not be making the return trip this year, but Joe Roff, an Australian World Cup winner in 1999, will be maintaining the team’s track record for high-class international pedigree.
The former Wallabies wing is attending the tournament as a sponsor’s ambassador. When he is not on official corporate duty, he will be filling the role of bag manager for the Conquistadors.
“I am honoured to be the bag manager for the Conquistadors this year,” said Roff, who will be reunited his former Oxford University teammate Winston Cowie, the Conquistadors player.
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“It is a role I will take seriously, making sure the boys have the right kit and are looking sharp.
“On a serious note I have heard Mike Ballard's story and I'm really impressed by what he has achieved personally, and what this group achieved in going to Madagascar last year.”
Having broken his back while playing in a match in Abu Dhabi in 2014, Ballard is now focused on improving the lives of others via his rugby foundation.
This involved taking medical supplies and rugby kit, as well as conducting coaching classes, in Madagascar on the foundation’s first “goodwill tour” in 2016.
He has taken a break from arranging the next trip, scheduled for Tanzania, to focus on the Conquistadors’ Sevens campaign. No easy task, given the side have five players arriving from overseas during this week.
“It will be a last-minute deal, with some arriving the night before the start, and in true social rugby tradition, we won’t get a team run in,” Ballard said. “We are going to show up and have a go, but it will be good.”