With its roots in a small Scottish town, where in 1883 the trimmed down seven-a-side version of the game was birthed; the story of the Rugby Sevens is littered with fairytale-like milestones. In 1976 it branched beyond UK borders to Hong Kong. The fact that it has grown to span continents in the East and West, gaining popularity in such modern, seemingly non-rugger playing nations as China and the UAE, is where the real fairytale comes into play.
Making its Dubai debut in 1999, the annual Rugby Sevens has grown to become one of the most anticipated events on the UAE events calendar – and with major competition from such colossal sporting occasions as the Formula One in neighbouring Abu Dhabi, not to mention Dubai’s busy horseracing agenda, it’s safe to say the shorter format game has successfully weathered the dry desert climate.
This is largely thanks to the support it receives in the UAE. A capacity crowd of 44 000 on the penultimate day of the rugby spectacular throngs the stands. In Dubai, the Emirates Dubai Rugby 7s tournament is a chance for thousands of the city’s expat residents to let their hair down in the Middle East. It’s an explosive formula made for entertaining the crowds and the concept is simple too; even for tenderfoot fans it’s a dream supporter event.
Let me break it down for you … Teams are 7 a side. They play for 7 minutes each half. Even though it’s a diminutive format, the sport is still full contact and moves at a pace that makes it easy to digest and extremely fun to watch.
In Dubai it takes place at 7he Sevens – a purpose-built arena in the desert about 30 minutes from the city centre where accents from all rugby playing nations come together for a three day sporting extravaganza.
Festivities are already underway when I enter the stadium. Our Blitzbokke are halfway through their surgical-like massacre of the Argentinians; the result – 40-0 in the quarter-final. It’s half time and the stadium heaves to the sounds of Queen’s We Will Rock You – an unwavering anthem of sport no matter where in the world you are. A South African in full Springbok regalia and an SA flag that rivals those flying at Parliament darts from one side of his stand to the other, his hand stabs the sky in support, his blood probably green and gold … expat pride oozing from his pores.
Chiefs, cowgirls, a family of Flintstones, a Scottish Highlander, a Jamaican bobsledder and Lederhosen clad supporters circle the pitch perimeter. Dressing up is part of the fun. Their pints slosh violently in plastic festival-proof mugs. On the outskirts of the 7he Sevens grounds a camel race is a-hoof; set against the breakaway sprints of the rugby players in the foreground, their train looks awkward and crowded.
As I make my way back to the hospitality tent, a lone South African is engaged in an awkwardly executed version of the Haka. I silently support him from the sidelines; he’s doing it in the name of free dops so it’s understandable. An Amarula-branded promo model peddles a complimentary sip of our best known creamy liquor export in my direction. “It’s all the way from Africa,” she excitedly explains. Acting amazed, I vehemently accept her offer, chucking it back from the minute tasting cup … free dops you know, they’re like gold out here.
The South African Blitzbokke, under the guidance of Coach Neil Powell, had a good year on the international Sevens Rugby stage. Despite topping their Pool at the Gold Coast Sevens, they were unable to get past Samoa in the semi-finals; however, a Gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games was an admirable consolation prize.
It’s South Africa versus Australia in the final on day 3. The Boks swagger to a 33-7 win over the Wallabies on the main pitch, their decisive victory bringing them to number 2 on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series log, just behind the Fijians.
In Dubai, 7s Rugby isn’t limited to the HSBC Sevens World Series and the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series. There is also the Invitation Tournament, which features over 220 invitational teams: The sections include local teams, veterans, women, and juniors, and a Gulf Under 18 girls competition. The Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens originated with the Invitation Tournament and it is a proud part of the event’s history. During three compelling days, all seven pitches at The Sevens stadium are in regular use.
Thrilling action, great crowds, a party vibe, top class entertainment, all in a superb venue – blend it all together, and the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens will again be an event to chase in 2015.
You just have to look at the Dubai events calendar to realise the city, beyond everything else it offers, is a serious sporting destination.
Thanks to Emirates – the title sponsor of the Dubai Rugby 7s – the event, which takes place annually, is more accessible than ever. Direct daily flights to Dubai are available from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Dubai Rugby Sevens 2015 dates are yet to be announced; stay up to date by visiting dubairugby7s.com.