Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 29 October 2020

Invitational teams look ahead to 2021 after cancellation of Dubai Rugby Sevens

Likes of Speranza 22 and Wyvern Harlequins say hard to plan for proposed invitational event later this year given travel uncertainty caused by coronavirus pandemic

Speranza 22 players celebrate after winning the International Invitational at the 2018 Dubai Rugby Sevens. Courtesy Rory Greene
Speranza 22 players celebrate after winning the International Invitational at the 2018 Dubai Rugby Sevens. Courtesy Rory Greene

Invitational rugby teams from around the world are already planning their returns for the 2021 Dubai Rugby Sevens, even though the event could still go ahead in some guise this year.

World Rugby announced on Wednesday the cancellation of the first two legs of the World Sevens Series season, which included the Dubai event scheduled for November.

However, the tournament director Tom Burwell said that, while the tournament could not go ahead “in its traditional format,” he hopes an event that is “invitational and club level, regionally focused” might be possible.

Of the 20 rugby and netball tournaments that ran concurrently at the 2019 Sevens, 11 involved international participation.

Eight were based on teams from around the Gulf region, with the UAE Schoolboys competition the only one specifically involving sides solely from this country.

Speranza 22 are a side who have reunited every year since 2013 at the Dubai Sevens, where they have won trophies in the International Invitational and Open competitions.

Their tour party usually includes members from as far afield as Argentina, the UK and New Zealand.

Rory Greene, the Speranza 22 manager, described the competition’s organisers as “brilliant” for maintaining a dialogue with each of the sides in recent months.

That has included sending the sides questionnaires asking about their likelihood of entering the 2020 tournament if a variety of social distancing and other safety measures were in place.

Greene said the costs involved, as well as the uncertainty over the quarantining measures in the respective countries of the players, mean they will not be able to return this year, even if an invitational event takes place.

“We are absolutely gutted, as everyone is, that it is not going to go ahead in the way we know it,” Greene said.

“For us, we will probably not be partaking this year because it is a lot of finances to raise, and there are question marks over crowd size, and all the other things besides rugby that makes the Dubai Sevens so good.

“The UAE is handling [the pandemic] very well, but a lot of our players are from New Zealand, where there are now zero cases.

“There is a risk if they were to come out, then something was to change over that week period – as we have seen this week in Spain - there is a potential they could be stuck.

“November is still a few months away. Things could change, and hopefully they will for the better, and there will be less risk.

“But there is no way to put your hand on heart and say that will be the case at the moment. What we are saying now is that we are just planning to make 2021 a great year.”

Wyvern Harlequins are another regular invitational team who are yet to commit to playing in Dubai later this year following the postponement of the Dubai Rugby Sevens. Satish Kumar / The National
Wyvern Harlequins are another regular invitational team who are yet to commit to playing in Dubai later this year following the postponement of the Dubai Rugby Sevens. Satish Kumar / The National

One of Speranza 22’s regular rivals in the invitational tournaments in Dubai, Wyvern Harlequins, say they have not given up hope of fielding a side this year.

The team have been regular fixtures at the Sevens since the time it was staged at its old home ground at Dubai Exiles, which made way for the new venue back in 2007.

Their side is often drawn from players who are reserves for the international teams in the World Sevens Series competition.

Simon Baines, the player-manager of the Wyvern side, lives in Bahrain and works in Saudi Arabia, so is well aware of the travel situation that presently exist when moving even within the Gulf.

“It is going to be a challenge,” Baines said.

“We don’t know what things are going to look like at the end of the year, but we would like to bring what we call a Dragons team, which is a feeder team, if we can.

“We support the Royal Marines charity, and would have a lot of players who would be keen to come.

“We have not written it off as a no, but it is obviously a little more challenging now. The main problem is that no-one knows, so they have had to make this call now.”

Updated: July 30, 2020 08:09 PM

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