The biggest regret of Matthew Pewtner’s promising but ultimately brief rugby career was that he never got to feature for Wales at the Dubai Sevens.
The sevens specialist played nine tournaments around the world on the glamorous sevens circuit but injury robbed of him an appearance at one of the most popular. So it is with a wry smile the rugby talent turned coach and school teacher speaks about his new role as Dubai Hurricanes backs coach at training at the Sevens Stadium on the eve of the 2017/18 rugby campaign – in the shadow of the very venue he’d always dreamed of playing in.
Concussion forced Pewtner, 26, to quit rugby 18 months ago after medical advice, having represented Wales at sevens and under-20 level – as well as nearly 50 appearances for the Newport-based Dragons from 2009-16.
The former winger admitted he was “lost” for a few months after reality bit that he would never be allowed to play competitively again. But then he took the plunge and accepted a teaching post at GEMS World Academy. That led to him getting in contact with Canes and he’s quickly become a member of the club’s family.
“Unfortunately my career got cut short and I was a bit lost for a few months, I didn’t really know what to do,” recalled Pewtner.
“But then I decided to take the plunge and come to Dubai. I got a good job teaching in GEMS and I sent an email to the Canes as it looked like a really good set-up, asking if there were any coaching opportunities as it was something I’d been doing alongside my teaching career and something I want to do in the future.
“Fortunately they were in the market for a coach so it’s been quite a nice transition.
“I’ve been here five weeks and it’s been great. The school has helped, I’ve met a lot of friends there, but the biggest help has probably been coming to the Canes.
“Rugby is a game you can play anywhere in the world and as soon as you’re in a team part of a family straight away. It’s the nature of the game.”
The irony of putting nearly 50 players through their paces at The Sevens’ Pitch 2 – just a stone’s throw from the main Sevens Stadium, which will be teaming with rugby fans from around the world in just two months’ time – isn’t lost on Pewtner.
“One of my biggest regrets is not playing in the Dubai Sevens having been selected twice,” added the Newport native, whose career was cut short after he failed to recover from a head injury he suffered during the Premiership Sevens in August 2015.
“I signed with the Dragons when I was 17. When I was 21 I had a dual developmental contract with the Dragons and Wales. And over two seasons I did nine sevens tournaments.
“I did all of them except Dubai. I got selected for Dubai but before the one I pulled my hamstring and then the following year I broke my thumb so injury stopped me from coming here. I did Wellington, Hong Kong, Vegas, Japan, South Africa and the UK ones and France too.
“The first time (I missed out on Dubai) in particular was a regret as I’d just had a really good pre-season, was really fit and it was a really good time for me in my sevens career. The hamstring went a day before we flew and I’d always wanted to play in the Dubai Sevens.
“It’s weird a few years later I’m coaching the team next door to the stadium I should have played in. I’m doing the next best thing.”
The 15s format of the game takes precedence for Canes now – who are looking to improve after a few seasons in the wilderness but with confidence high under director of rugby Mike Werhham.
And Pewtner is happy to be part of a club looking to improve in all formats – with an eye especially on the Sevens where he’ll lend his sevens expertise to Canes, as well as coaching his school side.
“I’ll look forward to it now as a coach and I’ve heard it’s one of the best weekends of the year out here,” he said.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing a lot of old faces. Obviously I know the Welsh boys but also I know a lot of the players from other countries so it will be really good to see some familiar faces. I will be coaching Canes and also my school team. It’s going to be a good weekend.”
Having lived and breathed rugby as a day job for most of his adult life, Pewtner admitted he didn’t have too much knowledge of the popularity of the sport in the UAE. But he revealed he’s been hugely impressed with the Canes set-up since his arrival earlier this summer.
“Obviously when I played it was our job so we worked and trained every day,” he said.
“But it’s really nice to see here that even though the boys train twice a week, they’re putting in the hours away from the paddock in the gym too and when we’re here, it may only be an hour and a half but it’s a really good quality hour and a half.
“As a management team we structure our trainings really well and they are planned accurately so there’s no time wasted and we make the most of all the time we get on the field.
“I think the set-up is really good, really professional, I’d be surprised if there’s a more professional set-up than what we have.
“I was a bit surprised turning up the standard. The biggest shock was the sheer numbers. Back in Wales the game is the national sport but even local teams there would have 20 boys at training and that would be a good number.
“I turned up here at my first session and there was 45 players, which was awesome. And players from all over the world too, northern and southern hemisphere players, loads of people coached very differently, so it’s nice bringing them together.
“The standard is really high and hopefully as coaches we can take them to their highest potential.”