Dubai Hurricanes player Gwillym Poole will be attending the Dubai Sevens this weekend, but in a slightly more unusual role than you might imagine– he’ll be manager and assistant coach of the Kukri Cobras, essentially the USA’s second string.
Poole, commercial manager at rugby equipment providers Kukri Middle East and Africa, helped establish the Yalla Kukri team with Yalla Rugby website founder and local rugby photographer Alex Johnson.
Through his Kukri colleague Chris Marshall – an Abu Dhabi Harlequins player – Poole was introduced to USA Eagles’ team manager Dominic Budzisz.
In a 12-month period Poole has gone from managing the Yalla Kukri team to being asked to help coach the Cobras in both the opening leg of the 2017/18 World Rugby Sevens Series in Dubai this weekend, as well as the fourth leg in the US’ back yard, Las Vegas, next March.
Poole, 33, hopes it will all eventually prove to be a stepping stone towards a coaching career once he eventually hangs up his boots.
“I hope to gain as much experience as I can from this weekend,” said the Englishman, who has lived in Dubai for the last four years and played his first three years at Dubai Sharks.
“Rugby is my life and to work within a professional team is the dream, I’m too old to do it now as a player so why not as a manager or coach.”
It’s been a whirlwind 12 months for Poole, who has plunged into the challenge with both feet since being approached by Marshall – who himself has coaching experience on the USA 7s circuit.
Poole, who gained his coaching awards while on a rugby scholarship at the University of Central Lancashire in conjunction with Newcastle Falcons, added: “Last year I set up the Yalla Kukris with Alex, including all sponsors for our local Gulf Men’s Open team with Yalla Rugby and Kukri Sports in partnership.
“While I was working on that I also I took on the role as team manager/coach and it went really well.From there, I was introduced to one of the USA managers, Dominic. He and Chris asked me if I would be interested to do the same for them at the Dubai 7s this year and possibly forward onto Las Vegas.
“Of course, I said yes, and have spent the last eight months putting together everything we need, from Kukri kit, hotels, vehicles etc.”
Cobras head coach is Chris Roberts with Budzisz as manager and Poole, ironically from Poole in Dorset, admits he’s relished being part of the preparations for Dubai, where the Cobras face Germany Development, Georgia 7s and Froggies in the International Invitation Men’s division.
“As the weekend gets closer the conversations and communications are becoming regular,” added Poole.
“Some including plans with the USA which of course, I can’t really disclose. We also have meetings planned leading upto the tournament where I plan to gain further experience and insight.”
Poole has grand plans for his dugout debut and that of the Cobras in Dubai, aiming to end the weekend as champions.
“We feel as a unit we can win each game and become champions,” said Poole, who played against the UAE for the Conference Barbarians earlier this year.
“This is our short-term goal as we hope for this team to grow and be involved in further tournaments around the world.Next up is Las Vegas and Hong Kong.
“The talent in this squad is huge. We have some of the biggest names from the sevens circuit and we are extremely proud to have these guys play for us.
“Players from the USA squad like Chris Mattina and Kevon Williams coming into our squad means we are going to be up there in terms of the final.
“Add in the experience and talent of Ryno Benjamin, Wes Pooley and the other great players we have, we should be putting on a fantastic show for all the spectators and fans.
“Our aim is also to raise the profile of Kukri Sports in the Middle East in conjunction with our other sponsors while trying to bring the best rugby players to the Middle East. Kukri Sports is seeking to align itself as a brand with the best globally and I feel the Cobras squad reflects that.”
After missing out on glory in the Gulf Men’s Open with Yalla Kukri a year ago, Poole also hopes it will be a double celebration for Kukri this year.
“Yalla Kukri’s aim will be to dominate after cruelly missing out on the final last year.
“We have been training well for weeks with the six new players in the squad and it’s all going really well. We are focused on getting Yalla Kukri to become champions.”
Sean Hurley is so synonymous with Jebel Ali Dragons and the Dubai Rugby Sevens, that a year after hanging up his boots he wanted to be as far away from all the fanfare and excitement as possible – although nearly 9,000km seems pretty drastic.
While his clubmates go for glory at one of the most popular sporting events on the UAE calendar this weekend, Hurley will be trekking through the Ica desert in Peru, competing in the grueling Marathon des Sables (MdS) – the first time in the event’s illustrious 32-year history it is being held outside of the Sahara Desert.
Hurley has enjoyed a fairly distinguished playing career himself – having represented the Arabian Gulf RFU in 15s and 7s between 2003-09 and the UAE from 2010-13.
The MdS is renowned for the physical and mental strain it places on participants. It is a 250km ultramarathon that is run over six stages and eight days. It sounds like a tough task for anyone, never mind someone who “despises” running.
“My whole life I’ve never been a fan of running and actually hated it,” admitted Hurley, 39, who unlike many better prepared participants, only signed on to compete three months ago.
“I would get it done at training, pre-season, 7s sprint trainings etc, but running over 3km was the limit.
“I had actually never really run over 5km in my life before I signed up to this race, which has made the training interesting and how amazing the human body adapts. I’ve grown to enjoy it over the last 12 weeks.”
The Philippines-born Australian, who has called the UAE home for nearly 18 years, played in the Dragons Social team that lost the Plate final to Sand Sharks at last year’s Sevens.
Having called it a day after 17 straight years featuring at the tournament and turning 40 during his Peruvian pilgrimage, Hurley, who refuses to play vets rugby, was keen to find something to keep him occupied on Sevens weekend.
“I retired from rugby because I can’t commit to the trainings anymore, with all the travel I do with work,” said Hurley, who is the Africa, Middle East and South Asia director for Spanish fashion brand, Mango.
“Although I still feel fit and healthy enough to play, I don’t want to give half an effort. I’m not really into playing vets rugby either.
“Part of the decision for doing this is for charity, but I think the final factor that helped seal the decision was I turn 40 on the final stage of this race.
“Since I hung up the rugby boots last year at the 7s, I’ve been searching for a new goal or at least a fitness target I could work towards.
“When you retire from playing a team sport after 35 years, it leaves quite a big hole and despite the fact I’m still involved in the club and all the boys are good mates, it’s not quite the same.
“I wanted to do something so far out of my comfort zone, this seemed like a good idea.”
Prior to the AGRFU disbanding in 2009 and the UAE forming its own, independent union, Hurley represented the Arabian Gulf at the 2009 Rugby World Cup Sevens, held in the UAE.
The team lost all three games in Pool A, including a 41-5 defeat to juggernauts New Zealand, although they were narrowly beaten 19-17 by Italy in their final match, before going down to Ireland 24-5 in the first knockout round of the Bowl competition.
There he played alongside fellow Dragons Jonny MacDonald, now an assistant coach at the club, James Love, who returned to Jebel Ali this season after stints with London Scottish and playing in Hong Kong, and Tom Otton, who is also tackling the MdS with him.
He was also part of the Dragons side that won three Gulf Men’s League titles at Dubai from 2011-13 and admits the tournament will always hold a special place in his heart.
“There’s so many moments that stand out,” added Hurley, who lives in the old town/Manzil district of Dubai.
“I played for the Arabian Gulf for seven years at the 7s, we toured to other 7s tournaments, but probably my favourite was the Rugby World Cup 7s in 2009.
“Since then, definitely winning the three back to back victories with the Dragons, that was utterly fantastic and was just as important to me as the representative stuff.”
During training, Hurley and Otton discovered fellow Dubai resident Nick Peters was also entering, so the three joined forces. Otton and Peters have some similar experience – Create Media Group managing director Otton ran the MdS in its traditional home of Morocco’s Sahara in 2015 and summited Mera Peak in the Himalayas last year.
He’s very much the rookie of the group and knows he’s in for an energy-sapping struggle. But he insists there’s nothing he fears ahead of the race, which started earlier today.
“I’ve been looking forward to the whole experience, not just the race,” said Hurley, who landed in Lima with the guys last Wednesday.
“I honestly don’t think there’s anything I’m dreading, but I know stuff will go wrong, we just have to deal with it and support each other.
“I can only go by what I’ve heard from the guys who’ve done this before and Tom is one of them, but managing your feet is the toughest part I think.
“I’ve heard 95 per cent of people come out of it with their feet genuinely destroyed, blistered, bloody etc. And maybe not washing for nine days coukd be the other hard part.”
He’s tried his hand at kayaking, outriggers, triathlons and rugby in the past, all of which feature elements of distance, but Hurley knows they don’t compare to this.
“I’ll have to let you know after we (hopefully) finish the race, but I can see this sort of challenge becoming very addictive. If the training is anything to go by, the highs and satisfaction I’ve felt after some of the long training days (30-35km) have been amazing.”
The trio are raising money for the Larchfield Orphanage in Tanzania and are targeting Dh30,000.
Hurley added: “It’s the other part to this challenge I’m looking forward to. We’ve started only a few days ago because UAE approval took 10weeks. The other charity is one close to my family’s heart in Australia, with funds being raised there for it.”
You can help the guys reach their target by visiting their JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/teams/PeruUltra2017.
One of the UAE’s favourite sporting events, the Dubai Rugby Sevens, is fast approaching and will take place at the Sevens Stadium from November 30-December 2.
Whether it’s your first time attending the event or if you’re a seasoned pro, here is a look at our top tips to help get the most out of your weekend.
If you’re based around Dubai or further afield, it’s important to arrive early and avoid the entry queue, which normally starts to build around midday.
Don’t be one of the people who tries to arrive fashionably late because you’ll miss all the fun.
On Sevens weekend, arrive early and make the most of the day!
If you have loose hips like Shakira or are simply in the mood for a consistently good atmosphere, the dnata stand is where it all happens.
You might have some vocal rugby enthusiasts barking from the throngs of the upper stand, but it’s all in good spirits.
If you’re looking for a break away from the dnata stand, the social leagues on pitches two and three offer a combination of solid rugby and plenty of laughs.
The Dubai Sevens is all about what you wear, so if you want to stand out from the crowd then it’s advised to dress up.
Some of the prominent costumes from 2016 include elves, minions, Where’s Wally, Superman, The Incredibles and even a man dressed up as a vending machine.
Do your research early and give yourself enough time to buy or make a unique outfit.
We all love to comfort eat at times, but with many food trucks available at the ground (Bidi Bondi, Left Bank, Giraffe), why not go for a healthy option.
It’ll have you feeling mentally sharp instead of the peaks and troughs that come with feasting on greasy burgers and chips.
Don’t try and be a hero. Small beverages make the day enjoyable instead of drinking everything you can get your hands on.
Drink plenty of bottled water as the sweltering midday heat is a recipe for dehydration. It’s a marathon, not a sprint!
It’s always tricky when you have thousands of people battling for taxis at the end of the night, however, last year the queues moved fast and there are even free buses available that bring people back to various locations.
Another option to avoid queuing is to use the Uber or Careem apps and ask the driver to collect you at the gates of the Sevens Stadium.
Barasti and Irish Village are the most popular venues for those making evening plans.
With the weather cooling down, Barasti is the best choice and offers good music and plenty of space. If you have visitors over for the weekend, it’s a safe bet for a consistent night.