The dates for Dubai’s biggest sporting party of the year have been announced with the annual Dubai Sevens set to take place at the aptly named Sevens on the weekend of November 29 – December 1.
The Dubai tournament is the first leg of the HSBC World Rugby Men’s Sevens Series, which next season also doubles as a qualifying competition for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for both the Men and Women’s teams.
South Africa are the defending Men’s Series champions, pipping Fiji for the title after defeating England in Paris to win the final leg of the 10-round series.
While Olympic champions Australia are the reigning Women’s Series champs, after narrowly holding off a superb New Zealand Black Ferns team in Paris.
Both South Africa and Australia are also the Dubai defending champions.
The men’s and women’s Series in 2018 saw record-breaking fan engagement figures with more than 120 million video views, a 60 per cent increase on 2017.
📆 HSBC World Rugby Men's Sevens Series 2019 #HSBC7s— Rugby World Cup Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) July 6, 2018
Dubai➡️30 - 1 Nov/Dec
Cape Town➡️8-9 Dec
Sydney ➡️2-3 Feb
Las Vegas➡️1-3 Mar
Hong Kong➡️5-7 Apr
Paris ➡️1- 2 Jun pic.twitter.com/36ZN60cS9R
The 2018/19 will be hotly contested as 15 core men’s teams and 11 core women’s teams compete for their respective titles, and with the series acting as the principal route for qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, it promises to be even more competitive than usual.
The 2018/19 series welcomes Japan’s men and China’s women as core teams after they won the Hong Kong qualifier in April.
This season, the Women’s Sevens Series increases to six rounds with USA hosting the new opening round in Glendale, Colorado, on 20-21 October, 2018.
Rounds two and three are combined events alongside the men’s series, in Dubai on 29-30 November, and Sydney on February 1-2, before standalone events in Japan, on April 20-21 and Langford, Canada, on May 11-12.
The Women’s Series 2018/19 will culminate in Paris, May 31 – June 1.
The men’s Series will again be contested across 10 rounds from November 2018 to June 2019.
The series opens in Dubai before teams move on to Cape Town in South Africa the following week.
In the New Year, teams will travel to Hamilton, New Zealand, on January 26-27 before both men’s and women’s teams are welcomed to Sydney, Australia, for three days of action packed rugby sevens from 1-3 February.
The fifth and sixth rounds will be hosted in Las Vegas, USA, on March 1-3 and Vancouver, Canada, on March 9-10, before teams travel to Hong Kong on April 5-7 and Singapore on April 13-14 for rounds seven and eight respectively.
The penultimate round of the series will take place again in London on May 25-26 with Paris hosting the finale on June 1-2.
“As we enter an Olympic Games qualifying year, the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series promises to again be highly competitive as both men’s and women’s teams look to secure their place, via the world series, at Tokyo 2020,” said World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont.
“Rugby Sevens has seen record growth in awareness in recent years with its inclusion in the Olympics having a profound effect on the sport, attracting an estimated 30 million fans globally.
“The series continues to capture the imagination of global audiences with record-breaking fan engagement figures of over 120 million video views recorded this year.
“The World Series is truly one of Rugby Sevens’ flagship competitions and we are looking forward to watching teams once again compete at the highest level not only for the coveted world series title, but also Olympic qualification.”
HSBC World Rugby Men’s Sevens Series schedule
Nov 30 – Dec 1: Dubai
Dec 8 – 9: Cape Town
Jan 26 – 27: Hamilton
Feb 2 – 3: Sydney
Mar 1 – 3: Las Vegas
Mar 9 – 10: Vancouver
Apr 5 – 7: Hong Kong
Apr 13 – 14: Singapore
May 25 – 26: London
June 1 – 2: Paris
HSBC World Rugby Men’s Sevens Series schedule
October 20-21: Glendale, Colorado
Nov 29-30: Dubai
February 1-2: Sydney
April 20-21: Japan
May 11-12: Langford, Canada
May 31 – June 1: Paris
Speranza 22 finally got the heart-warming win they’d hungered five years for, yet in the intervening years where victory had been agonisingly close yet oh so far away, something much more important had been formed – a family.
Speranza 22 was set up in 2013 as a group of friends who played together at Abu Dhabi Harlequins wanted to honour their pal Marco Speranza, who died in a plane crash, aged just 20, in his native Argentina that February.
More than 50 players have worn the sky blue Speranza 22 shirt over the course of the last five Dubai Rugby Sevens, and three of the players who finally tasted triumph on Pitch 1 at The Sevens Stadium in front of thousands on Saturday would have been looking skywards and thinking of their friend.
Brothers Rodrigo, Ignacio and Nico Costa are the only three remaining from the original Speranza side of 2013, with middle sibling Ignacio having played alongside Marco in the Quins side that won the Gulf U18s title at the Sevens in 2009.
Speranza earned a pretty convincing victory in Saturday’s International Invitation Men’s Cup final, beating SA 7s Academy – boasting perhaps some future South African sevens international in their ranks – convincingly, 17-5.
Speranza’s dad Orlando, who still lives in the UAE capital, was on the pitch to celebrate with the Costa brothers and the rest of the team, along with daughters Nadia and Agostina, something Greene admitted was very special.
“The emotions are pretty raw, there were tears streaming down my face on the pitch when the final whistle went,” said Rory Greene, the Speranza coach, who is also Mike McFarlane’s assistant at Quins.
“Orlando, Marco’s dad, was there on the pitch with us thanks to organisers. And to have him there and Nadia and Agostina on the sidelines, it was amazing.”
Although nothing compared to the heartache Orlando, Stella (Marco’s mother, the couple are now divorced) and the Speranza family would have felt after losing their son five years ago, Speranza 22’s road to Sevens glory has been a heartbreaking one.
They were beaten by Wyvern Harlequins in the semi-finals of the International Open Men’s Trophy competition on debut in 2013. It was to turn into a rivalry over the ensuing years, Speranza beaten 21-17 by Wyvern in the 2014 Trophy final and then again 21-19 in the Trophy quarter-finals a year later, while defeat came at the hands of Projecx Waterboys 26-19 in last year’s Plate final.
They were not to be denied a sixth time, however, with a second half flurry seeing SA put to the sword with a three-try flurry, with the young Blitzbokke getting a consolation score right at the death.
In a double celebration, Speranza’s second side also tasted glory in the International Open Men’s section too, beating Olymp Men 33-12 in the Plate final.
Despite finally breaking their trophy duck, Greene insists the Speranza 22 brand now transcends winning.
“Every year it hurts when we’ve lost, every day it hurts when we think about Marco. He’s such a special boy,” said Greene.
“Originally we set it up just so the boys who played with Marco could have a bit of a reunion and it’s now grown into something so much bigger.
“We’ve had 55 boys pull on the Speranza shirt and it’s about building a legacy for Marco. We can do that by playing a bit of footy, advertising for good causes.
“Of course we want to win but it’s so much more than that. All we ask is someone who puts the shirt on to represent the brand the way Marco would have. If you have good people the quality will come with that. I can say without a shadow of a doubt there’s not one of the 50-odd lads I wouldn’t have back in a heartbeat tomorrow.”
The team has come together through tragedy and created a special bond, a new family. And Orlando insists the entire squad are all now part of his family.
“It is something unbelievable that people coming from all over the world were cheering your name, wearing your jersey and being at the stadium was something that I will never forget,” said Speranza Snr, 53, an aircraft engineer who works for LATAM Etihad.
“Marco is not with us but I have seen Marco in every person who participate in our movement. The Costas, they are the ones who spread our word in New Zealand and put together a great team and fantastic players.
“But most importantly they are great human beings, with our sponsors, who believe and trust in our cause. They are legends, they are family, this is the Speranza 22 family.”
It might be a tournament held in the comfort of their own backyard, but the Dubai Sevens has been more of a house of horrors for the British School Al Khubairat in recent memory.
The Abu Dhabi-based school have endured disappointment after bitter disappointment in Dubai of late – but they laid to rest some ghosts with a commanding 22-5 defeat of resident Sevens kings Dubai College in the Gulf U19 Boys final on Saturday.
Dubai schools have held something of a monopoly on their home tournament in the last seven years. DC won four titles in a row from 2011-14 – whitewashing BSAK in the 2011 final 26-0 – while Dubai English Speaking College were reigning champions (Al Ain Amblers beat DC in 2015’s final.
They exited at the semi-final stage in each of the next four years – falling to Abu Dhabi Harlequins, DC, Dubai English Speaking College and Al Ain – but the demons were well and truly exorcised on the grandest stage yesterday, with the final held as always on Pitch 1 in front of crowds of thousands.
It was a convincing win in the end, by four tries to one, with all four tries scored by separate players. And that shared responsibility is what head coach Ali Thompson feels was the bedrock of a long-awaited success.
“I think that’s been the difference,” said BSAK assistant head Thompson.
“We have 12 players who can each make an impact. It’s great to get the win which is something we haven’t been able to do over the years.”
James Wilson, one of the youngest players on the team, opened the scoring in thrilling fashion with a lung-busting length of the field try, Callum Anderson converting.
They were 12-0 up in no time with a slick move finished off by Morgan Ashton. They endured a bit if a nervy wobble after the break when Jacques Benade’s men briefly mounted a comeback with an unconverted try.
They could have wilted and allowed past memories of failure cloud their thoughts – particularly defeat to DESC in last year’s final – but instead they moved through the gears. Tobi Sofidiya cut through a tired DC defence to socred their third and they put the icing on the cake at the death with Luke Gammell sealing a precious triumph.
Rather than be weighed down by past defeats, Thompson claimed defeat has only strengthened BSAK’s resolve.
“I think it’s seven years since we last won it and losing in the final last year was hard on the boys, but every cloud has a silver lining,” said the Scotsman.
“The starting squad, every single member played in that final last year, so they’ve had that disappointment.
“You can win or lose that game in the tunnel, with the big pitch to play on. The boys were relaxed and knew what to expect. That stood us in great stead.
“They were in the changing rooms 30 minutes before the final singing songs and quite relaxed, and they just went out there. They’ve been outstanding all weekend.
“It’s been a six month journey, they started in June, and they’ve reaped the rewards. To have nine boys returning is a huge bonus. We brought in two young Year 11s and James Wilson off the bench, and you saw the impact.”