Ahead of the 2019 Dubai Rugby Sevens, we’re looking back at some of the finest matches as Dubai’s oldest sporting event celebrates its 50th anniversary
South Africa 33 New Zealand 26
World Rugby Sevens Series final – December 2003
They are the two most successful teams in the UAE and have lifted 15 of the 20 World Rugby Sevens Series titles between them. So it would be remiss of us to celebrate some of the greatest matches played at the Dubai Rugby Sevens without mentioning New Zealand and South Africa.
Luckily, there have been plenty of match-ups and a slew of sumptuous spectacles played out in the desert sun too. None more so than the final of the main men’s World Sevens Series Cup final in 2003 – the fifth year that Dubai had been a host of the prestigious worldwide series.
The All Blacks Sevens had dominated the early years, winning the inaugural six world titles and four Dubai finals in a row – by a gargantuan combined margin of 155-38.
But that all changed in year five. The Kiwis’ four-year reign as Dubai champions was ended by an explosive Blitzbokke.
Gordon Tietjens – who led New Zealand to all 12 of their World Series titles during a dominant reign as coach from 1994-2016 – saw his black-clad warriors downed in thrilling fashion at The Sevens Stadium.
The men from the Rainbow Nation had trailed 19-12 at the break but scored three second half tries. And it was South Africa’s second win over New Zealand in 17 matches across the series.
Coached by 1995 Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok Chester Williams, South Africa had too much pace for New Zealand, with playmaker Earl Rose and speedster Fabian Juries devastating with ball in hand.
They opened the scoring after just 20 seconds when Tonderai Chavhanga grabbed the ball from kick-off and weaved his way inside two defenders to score under the posts.
New Zealand hit back immediately with Amasio Valence crossing after good work from Karl Te Nana and Craig de Goldi.
Marius Schoeman then outpaced the Kiwi defence to score in the corner and restore South Africa’s lead.
New Zealand came back into the match in the latter stages of the first half and scored two tries in quick succession to lead at the break.
De Goldi’s superb converted try put New Zealand in front for the first time, Tafai Ioasa’s score adding to their lead.
Roared on by the majority of the 20,000 thousand strong crowd, the Blitzbokke again scored early in the second period – replacement winger Danwell Demas showing electrifying pace. Dale Heidtmann scored their fourth try a minute later after a mistake.
New Zealand weren’t finished though and they levelled the scores with barely a minute remaining when Justin Wilson created a try out of nothing, confusing opponents with a jinking run to leave the final on a knife edge.
However, straight from kick-off the ball was spun to speedster Juries who was too quick for the New Zealand defence and ran in under the posts.
What made the feat all the more remarkable was each team’s passage to the final. New Zealand had thrashed Samoa 33-0, a while South Africa had crept past England 13-12.
Unfortunately for the Blitzbokke, they were later stripped of their win due to fielding an ineligible player, Chavhanga. But that doesn’t detract from a memorable, mesmerising spectacle.