There will be more teams than ever before at this year’s Dubai Sevens with the installation of an eighth pitch at 7he Sevens Stadium.
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Work has begun on the new surface and tournament director Jim Fitzsimons said the amount of teams at the invitation tournament will rise from 224 in 2014 to 250 this year thanks to the work being carried out.
General pitch maintenance is also being carried out at the purpose-built venue, which is 8km from Dubai.
Fitzsimons says the tournament was at “stretching point” last year and that the new pitch will give a host of new teams from around the UAE and the world to come off the waiting list and enter the tournament for the first time.
“The new pitch means there will be more room and the tournament will go from 224 teams last year to 250 this year, which helps massively,” said Fitzsimons, who is also general manager at 7he Sevens.
“We were at stretching point in 2014 and although we will be again, there are lots of teams who have been on the waiting list for some years.
“This will always be the case as the Dubai Sevens is the biggest sevens tournament in the world and it’s a great weekend.”
Apart from the top quality rugby action at the event, there is also a holiday atmosphere at the Dubai Sevens, with plenty on show off the pitch for spectators.
In addition to the new pitch, work is now underway to get the venue ready for when the local sporting seasons resume in a few months, including introducing better lighting systems on all pitches.
“We will be ready for the Sevens but we will also be ready for the local sporting scene which kicks off in August. That is very important to us,” said Fitzsimons.
Fitzsimons said organisers are also planning a few more surprises for this year’s event, although he was remaining tight-lipped on the new additions.
“We’re looking mainly at pitch one and the production and bringing in some crowd pleasers. I’m sure the public will go away more than happy,” he said.
Xodus Wasps are searching for a new head coach after Darrell McEwen relinquished the role after just one season.
Following a turbulent campaign for the club, in which they finished rock bottom of both the Sport360 UAE Premiership and the West Asia Gulf Conference, the New Zealander has stepped down.
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The club insist the decision is mutual and revealed McEwen will remain at the club, but he recently married and has cited job demands as reasons for leaving his post.
Wasps’ director of rugby Martin Southern said the club is looking to appoint a replacement with experience of both coaching and playing as well as someone who can develop the squad and take the club forward.
“Darrell isn’t leaving the club but he doesn’t have enough time to be able to dedicate being head coach, as he is newly married with a demanding job, and he also fancies a final crack at being a player,” said Southern, who like McEwen arrived at the club last summer in a bid to turn poor fortunes around.
“We are looking to appoint a new coach who is an experienced coach and former player to lead the men’s teams and develop the players in the squads.
“It must be stressed at this point that we are a fully amateur club and any incoming coach(es) would have to embrace the amateur ethos. “We had a very successful 7s and 10s season, but were not so successful in the 15 a-side game. We aim to put that right this term and need a new head coach to lead us.”
Despite their shortcomings last season, Wasps were dogged by numerous problems on and off the field, not least a string of injuries and even an outbreak of conjunctivitis which left them missing 28 players across two teams on one game day during the Premiership campaign.
“We are anticipating a number of new arrivals in the playing ranks and we hope to have our long term injured back in the squad in time for September so we should be very competitive in the UAE Conference,” said Southern.
“Squad strength was stretched beyond limits last year with a crazy injury and illness crisis that forced us to forfeit several second team fixtures as the UAE RF refused to use their discretionary powers to allow rescheduling of games.
“We are also looking for any new or existing players to join us, men or women, whatever their level of play. Last season as a club we participated in 15 a -side, 7s, 10s, RL, Touch and also Women’s 15s, 7s and touch.
“We aim to do the same this season and to improve on performances across the board.”
Southern insists he is looking forward to the challenge ahead.
“My role as director of rugby is to steer the rugby playing side of the club – men’s and women’s – and to put together a coaching team to deliver results.
“We have had a re-structure in the committee and the organisation of the club and are looking to build on the foundations laid.”
Wasps are certainly in need of a buzz after a disastrous 2014/15.
They went through the five-game Premiership season winless, finishing bottom with just a point and seven adrift of fifth-placed Dubai Exiles, amassing a -137 points difference.
They fared little better in the post-Christmas Gulf Conference, again finishing bottom below Exiles, Doha 2nds and Muscat, winning just one game from six.
They fared better at the Dubai Sevens in December, reaching the final of the Gulf Men’s League Plate competition, although they went down 15-10 to the Red Sea Sharks.
Their season hardly got off to the greatest of starts when they were fined Dh10,000 (£1,621) by the UAE Rugby Federation for failing to send a member of staff on a medical course.
The UAE RF said Wasps failed to officially respond to its “correspondence to explain non-attendance” and the fine was upheld on appeal.
Earlier this year the club’s second team was disqualified from the Sport360 UAE Conference after they forfeited three games, a decision chairman Craig Gibson labelled “over-zealous”.
Jan Venter believes the platform he has built at Dubai Exiles can be used by replacement Jacques Benade to take the club “to the next level”.
Venter stood down from his head coaching role at Exiles at the start of June, with his fellow South African to take the reins at the Middle East’s oldest rugby club on July 1.
Venter took over three years ago, making no secret of the fact that the club at the time were in “chaos”.
The affable Venter stepped up from the club’s youth ranks to sort out a senior outfit that was in a mess.
At the time he took the role, players were skipping training sessions, even games and the whole club lacked structure and direction. The glory days of yesteryear had become a forgotten chapter in the history of the Exiles.
Slowly, he started to turn the tide, re-installing traditional rugby values of discipline and camaraderie.
Eight players attended his first training session, while today the number of senior players hovers around the 60 mark.
Dubai Exiles RFC are delighted to announce the appointment of Jacques Benade as they’re new Director of Rugby with effect from 1st July 2015
— Dubai Exiles RFC (@DubaiExiles) June 2, 2015
“Exiles men’s team were not in a good place. The club was in a bit of chaos,” said Venter, reflecting on when he took charge.
He had been at the club five years, coaching the mini and youth section as well as the Under-16s and U18s prior to taking the big job and setting about installing the regime that exists today.
“The club needed to get back the ethos of camaraderie and discipline,” said Venter.
“We were very successful in doing that. We have not lost one first team player (in my time) to another team in Dubai. The only players who left were the ones who went on to bigger and better things.”
The first to admit his role as coach arose out of pure love for the game as opposed to technical knowledge, Venter sang the praises of the incoming Benade, who has coached professionally in Northern Ireland with Malone RFC of the All Ireland League Division One.
“Exiles have got to the stage where they need a top quality, professional coach to take them to the next level, and I believe Jacques is that guy. I believe he is the man to return the club to its glory days,” said Venter.
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“He is a professional coach, it is what he does. He is a rugby guy through and through. He is the director of rugby and will have a big impact on the club as a whole, not just the men’s team.”
Despite his departure, Venter is not leaving the club. He will assume a new role as commercial director, assuming responsibility for matters such as marketing, finances and, crucially, player recruitment.
Player of the season Rynardt van Wyk has left, along with two others for fresh challenges in France, so Venter knows time is of the essence in terms of bringing fresh faces into the club.
Former UK Harlequins centre Tosh Masson, who was also involved in the England Under-21 set-up, has already arrived, as has South African fly-half DuRandt Gerber, who has Currie Cup experience in his homeland and also played for seven years in Italy, even gaining one cap for Italy A.
Venter is not satisfied though and will be scouring the market over the summer months for new bodies, especially forwards, in a bid to help his replacement get the Exiles back into the Gulf Top 6.
“We have a core of decent guys there now, but it is still not enough in my opinion,” said Venter.
“We definitely need a few more, especially in the forwards. A replacement for Rynardt is needed. That is my job now and I’m looking forward to it.
“My three years as coach were extremely enjoyable, I loved every moment, and I was never going to leave the club. Even if the job hadn’t come up I would have looked to join the committee and be involved.
“I wish Jacques all the best and will back him 200 per cent. Let’s hope the guys can perform a bit better this year.”