Xodus Steelers zig and zag to stay ahead in competitive Dubai Sevens

With Thinus Delport lost to J9 Legends, the two-time defending champions of the Veterans 10s tournament have called in reinforcements.
Xodus Steelers, in pink, have won the last two Veterans 10s titles at Dubai Rugby Sevens. Jake Badger / The National
Xodus Steelers, in pink, have won the last two Veterans 10s titles at Dubai Rugby Sevens. Jake Badger / The National

DUBAI // Old habits die hard for the old boys who play in the International Veterans 10s tournament at the Sevens.

For one day only, the lucky few who reach the Saturday final get to go back in time, to when they were professionals playing in front of packed crowds with a trophy at stake.

By that point in the weekend, limbs which are 35-years-or-older are usually less willing than the mind controlling them but it rarely shows. The event may be peopled by retired golden oldies, but it is still fiercely competitive.

Usually, the rivalry lasts for no more than the 15 minutes or so the game lasts, then all are mates again. However, this year it has extended to the pre-Sevens transfer market.

J9 Legends have been busy recruiting since their tournament debut last year. Most notably, they have recruited Thinus Delport direct from Xodus Steelers, the side who beat them with the last play of the final.

The former South Africa international had been the key figure in converting the Steelers from perennial also-rans to dual champions over the past two years.

His absence from their ranks this weekend will be notable, but the Steelers bear no grudge.

Delport used to be a teammate of Joost van der Westhuizen, the ex-Springbok who set up J9 to raise awareness of motor neuron disease, from which he suffers.

“We understand the reasons, Thinus played with Joost in his playing career,” said Jason White, the former Scotland captain who leads the Steelers.

“He said to Joost last year that if he was going to play in the tournament again this time he would go across and play for J9.

“We completely understand that. We are sad to see him go, but that’s life and he has a great reason to go across.”

Given the strength of J9, Joining Jack – the all-star rugby league charity side – and Christina Noble, the Steelers will have their work cut out to retain their title this weekend.

They have also had a recruitment drive since last year, though. Delport and Caleb Ralph have gone, but they have added Bruce Reihana, Scott Murray and Simon Taylor to their usual core of former Scotland Test players.

“We have our strongest squad ever, even with losing Thinus,” White said.

“We have tries at the last gasp in the past two years. It went for us when it could so easily have gone against us.

“We are going to stay humble. The rugby ball can bounce in funny ways and the way these three days of rugby are it is about seeing if your squad can stay fit.

“Quarter-finals and semis are really key because you just want to make sure you get the chance to play on that big pitch on the Saturday.”

pradley@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 2, 2014 04:00 AM

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