Speranza22 will return to defend their Bournemouth 7s title next month

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Speranza with the Elite Men's Cup at last year's Bournemouth 7s.

Reigning champions Speranza22 will return to defend their Bournemouth 7s title next month.

The tournament, being held from May 24-26, was one of four trophies won in 2018 for the team established in 2013 in memory of former Abu Dhabi Harlequins player Marco Speranza, who was killed aged just 20 in a plane crash in his native Argentina in February of that year.

The team aims to keep Speranza’s legacy alive by ensuring they play good rugby while raising awareness and money for various good causes. To date, they have raised more than £20,000 for organisations including Try Rugby, set up to allow children with additional needs to learn through rugby, as well as current charity CCELA, an orphanage in Ethiopia.

They have also previously supported Mike Ballard, another Quins player who suffered a serious spinal injury in 2014 which has left him in a wheelchair. Ballard is trying out for the USA Para Olympic kayaking team as he targets the 2020 Paralympic Games.

Speranza spent much of his life in Abu Dhabi, where his father worked. He started playing rugby at 15 with Quins and it soon became apparent that he had a natural talent for the game. In 2009 he was part of an exceptional Quins U19 side that went on to win the Dubai Sevens U19 competition.

He stayed in Abu Dhabi after school for two seasons playing for the Quins senior side before returning home to start his training to become a commercial pilot when tragedy struck.

Speranza22 players celebrate a memorable International Invitational Cup triumph at the 2017 Dubai Sevens.

Speranza22 players celebrate a memorable International Invitational Cup triumph at the 2017 Dubai Sevens.

Since being set up it’s been a rapid rise to success for Speranza22 whose maiden tournament was at the 2013 Dubai Sevens International Open, where all of Speranza’s team-mates from the victorious 2009 Quins Gulf U18 side came together in memory of their team-mate.

The name was formed by using his surname and his date of birth, September 22 (22 was also the number he chose on his shirt in 2009). In that first year (2013) they reached the semi-final and Speranza22 was formed.

Since then, Speranza22 have a unique selection criteria in that they only select players who knew Speranza or someone who has previously played for Speranza22. To date they have had 72 players represent Speranza22 from countries including Argentina, Australia, England, Fiji, Germany, Jamaica, Ireland, New Zealand, Romania, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Tonga and the US, all whom are linked back to the man the team is named after.

In 2018, they decided to have a go at the UK and Ireland circuit to see how they would measure up against some of the best invitational and club sevens teams.  The Bournemouth 7s Festival was top of their priority and they added another trophy to their cabinet as they claimed the Men’s Elite Cup.

Since 2013 they have achieved the following: 2013 Dubai Sevens International Open – Cup semi-finalists; 2014 Dubai Sevens International Open – Cup finalists; 2015 Dubai Sevens International Open – Cup quarter-finalists; 2017 Dubai Sevens International Invitational – Cup winners; 2017 Dubai Sevens International Open – Plate winners; 2018 Kinsale 7s Elite Men – Cup finalists; 2018 Bournemouth 7s Elite Men – Cup winners; 2018 Chester 7s Elite Men – Cup finalists; 2018 London Summer Social Elite Men – Plate winners; 2018 Dubai Sevens International Invitational – Cup quarter-finalists; 2018 Dubai 7s International Open – Cup winners.

In 2019 they were invited to be part of the UK Super 7s series. This is huge for Speranza22 as they have always wanted to test themselves regularly against the best and, for a relatively new side, to be asked to join the best sevens sides in the country based on recent results is a testament to how far they have come in such a short time.

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Stephen Ferguson and Jaen Botes excited to be part of Apollo Perelini's UAE squad

Matt Jones 3/04/2019
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Jaen Botes (r) is back in the UAE fold.

Players selected in UAE national team coach Apollo Perelini’s training squad ahead of the nation’s coveted return to elite international stage of Asian rugby are “buzzing” and “thankful” for their opportunities.

Perelini has selected a 27-man training squad – likely to be whittled down to around 23 – as the UAE prepare to return to the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) after a dismal 2018 in which the game’s governing body in the Emirates, the UAE Rugby Federation, pulled the national team out of the competition, without an explanation.

But Perelini and Co are back for the 2019 ARC and will compete in Division II, facing minnows Guam in a play-off game in Thailand next month, with the winners going on to face either the hosts or Kazakhstan three days later in the final, and a chance to earn promotion to Division I.

Perelini has selected arguably the strongest UAE side in recent memory as more and more top quality players plying their trade in the West Asia Premiership and beyond become eligible under UAE residency rules.

One new addition is rampaging Dubai Exiles lock Stephen Ferguson – who captained the UAE Barbarians last year in a hastily arranged set of friendlies against touring Gibraltar after the UAE RF’s surprising decision.

“I’m absolutely over the moon. I was buzzing when I found out,” said the Northern Irishman on finding out he had made the squad.

Stephen Ferguson (c) can't wait to hopefully be part of of a UAE Test squad.

Stephen Ferguson (c) can’t wait to hopefully be part of of a UAE Test squad.

“I’m just excited to be involved and hopefully I can help the boys do better than the last time they went away.”

It had been a chastening experience for the UAE the last time they featured in the ARC. In Malaysia in 2017, they lost all three Division I games to the host nation, as well as the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

They escaped relegation though and Perelini and his players had been keen to return to the second tier competition – below the ARC’s Tri Nations division featuring South Korea, Hong Kong and Malaysia – only to be disappointed.

Ferguson added: “It’s great to be back in the championship, as its gives the boys that little bit more to play for when coming up against boys from other teams vying for your spot on the national team.

“I captained the Baa Baas last year so this is my first taste of senior international UAE rugby, which is why I’m so excited.”

The players took part in their first training session on Monday and will train regularly over the next few weeks at The Sevens and in Jebel Ali before they depart for the tournament on May 12.

The UAE face Guam at Bangkok’s Bang Bon Sport Center on May 15, with the final three days later on May 18.

The UAE set-up is something Ferguson’s Exiles colleague Jaen Botes has previously experienced. But, after last year’s debacle, it is not something he has been taking for granted.

“I’m just thankful and glad to be given another opportunity to represent the UAE, I have come a long way this season with injury and stuff so I’m glad to see the hard work paying off,” said the hulking South African Number 8.

“It’s a very strong side and I’m excited to see what we can achieve. It’s always exciting to play under Apollo’s coaching and to represent the UAE. There’s lots of hard work ahead for everyone until we depart for Thailand.

“It will be great to train with all the boys you play against in the season. Excited is an understatement. I’m on holiday (at the moment) and won’t be back until Sunday so I missed the first session.”

UAE SQUAD

BACKS

Emosi Ratuvecanaua, Luke Stevenson, Kini Natuna (all Abu Dhabi Harlequins); Andrew Powell, Sakiusa Naisau (both Dubai Hurricanes), Niko Volavola, Matthew Richards (both Jebel Ali Dragons); Thinus Steyn, Edward Armitage (both Dubai Exiles), Sean Carey (Dubai Eagles); Majid Al Balooshi, Mohamed Suleiman (both Dubai Shaheen)

FORWARDS

Chris Jones-Griffiths, Craig Nutt, Murray Reason, Esekaia Dranibota, Sean Stevens (all Abu Dhabi Harlequins); Lucas Waddington, Gio Fourie, Matt Mills, Jaen Botes, Stephen Ferguson (all Dubai Exiles); Daniel Perry (Jebel Ali Dragons); Isaac Porter, Mohamed Hassan (both Dubai Eagles); Hamish Anderson (Dubai Hurricanes); Ahmed Moosa (Dubai Shaheen)

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UAE to return to Asia Rugby Championship as Apollo Perelini picks strong training squad

Matt Jones 3/04/2019
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Niko Volavola (l) is part of the UAE squad for Thailand.

UAE national team coach Apollo Perelini has selected arguably the strongest UAE side in recent memory as his side return to the Asia Rugby Championship next month.

Perelini and Co will surely hope to make up for lost time when they take on Guam in Thailand on May 15, as the UAE look to plot a path back into the ARC’s Division I after they withdrew from the competition a year ago.

The UAE Rugby Federation – for still unconfirmed reasons – withdrew the 15s team from the 2018 ARC, leaving the nation to play a glorified friendly against lowly Gibraltar.

During their 2017 Division I campaign in Malaysia, the UAE finished bottom of the table in Ipoh after defeats to the host nation, as well as the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

The UAE were spared relegation though and players and coaches had been looking forward to putting in an improved showing last year, only to be told of the news the UAE RF would not be sending a team to the tournament – which was instead played between two teams, the Philippines and Singapore, as a two-legged tie.

Those two sides will now compete in Division I, alongside Sri Lanka and Chinese Taipei, who were crowned Division II champions. The UAE will be heavily fancied to beat minnows Guam at the Bang Bon Sport Center in Bangkok, with the winners set to take on either Thailand or Kazakhstan in the final on May 18.

Apollo Perelini has named a strong UAE squad.

Apollo Perelini has named a strong UAE squad.

Instead of competing in the ARC, the UAE instead played Gibraltar in an unofficial Test match last April, winning 28-15.

Perelini has announced a 27-man training squad for the tournament which is likely to be whittled down ahead of the nation’s departure for Thailand on May 12. Training sessions will take place over the coming weeks.

UAE SQUAD

BACKS

Emosi Ratuvecanaua, Luke Stevenson, Kini Natuna (all Abu Dhabi Harlequins); Andrew Powell, Sakiusa Naisau (both Dubai Hurricanes), Niko Volavola, Matthew Richards (both Jebel Ali Dragons); Thinus Steyn, Edward Armitage (both Dubai Exiles), Sean Carey (Dubai Eagles); Majid Al Balooshi, Mohamed Suleiman (both Dubai Shaheen)

FORWARDS

Chris Jones-Griffiths, Craig Nutt, Murray Reason, Esekaia Dranibota, Sean Stevens (all Abu Dhabi Harlequins); Lucas Waddington, Gio Fourie, Matt Mills, Jaen Botes, Stephen Ferguson (all Dubai Exiles); Daniel Perry (Jebel Ali Dragons); Isaac Porter, Mohamed Hassan (both Dubai Eagles); Hamish Anderson (Dubai Hurricanes); Ahmed Moosa (Dubai Shaheen)

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