South Africa were the big winners at the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, but arguably the most heart-warming story of the weekend surrounded a team playing in memory of their South American team-mate who died last year.
Speranza 22 was formed for the first time in 2013 to honour Marco Speranza, a former Abu Dhabi Harlequins youngster, who died in a plane crash in his native Argentina in February last year.
Nine months after the 20-year-old’s death, his friends got to the semi-finals of the International Open Men’s competition in Dubai.
This year they were back again, championing their comrade by making it to the final, although they were disappointed to miss out on a perfect tribute to Marco as they lost 21-17 to Wyvern Harlequins in the final.
Marco was regarded as a precocious talent at Quins, quickly rising through the ranks of the second and first teams while still a teenager, having only taken up the sport at 15.
Along with many of the players who took to the field at Dubai this weekend, Marco won the Gulf U18s tournament in 2009 with Quins.
Speranza coach Rory Greene said: “It was a great game of rugby and Marco would have been proud. He looks down on us all the time.
“The win would have been absolutely fantastic, the icing on the cake, but ultimately the boys have come away with a real name for themselves.”
Greene said he and the coaching team had to remind the boys that they had already made their dearly departed friend proud long before the final whistle on Saturday.
“The win was important for the lads but the cause and the reason we were trying to win was the most important thing and that’s what we tried to tell them.
“This was all about Marco and Marco wouldn’t be looking down now and saying ‘boys, be glum’, he’d say ‘go out and enjoy yourselves, you’ve done yourselves proud’.
Greene believes history may be set to repeat itself in 2015.
“Bizarrely, if you believe in fate, this is how we won the 2009 tournament. We got to a couple of semis then lost the final before winning it.
“So perhaps Marco’s just playing with us up there and we may just do it the way he did it, but we’ll definitely be back next year and one day I’m sure we will win it for him.”
He added that Marco’s father Orlando had been an inspiring presence for the team in Dubai: “Marco’s dad had been with us, he was in the huddle and had been on the pitch, giving team talks before every game, so that was emotional.”
Speranza this year raised money for the Mike Ballard Foundation.
Mike, a former Quin himself, suffered a spinal injury while playing for Quins in the ARFU West Asia Champion Club final in April.
Mike and Marco played together at Quins in the American’s last and the Argentine’s debut season.
Greene concluded: “Last year we got to the semis and if we hadn’t have done that this year we might have been labelled a fluke, but we’re here for the long haul and Marco’s legacy will live on.”
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