Dubai Col­lege ‘dark horses’ to re­tain Gulf U19 ti­tle at the Sevens

▶ Head of sport plays down hopes of a re­peat of last year’s tri­umph, but happy to slip un­der the radar

The National - News - - SPORT - PAUL RADLEY

Dubai Col­lege might have en­joyed more suc­cess in the Gulf Un­der 19s com­pe­ti­tion than all other schools com­bined down the years at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

But one thing is al­ready guar­an­teed ahead of the de­fence of their ti­tle this com­ing week­end. They will not re­peat the du­op­oly they had last year.

Twelve months ago, the coun­try’s lead­ing rugby school achieved some­thing unique, as their first team played against their sec­ond team in the fi­nal on Pitch 1.

It was a fine achieve­ment for a school who, while once dom­i­nant in the event, had not ac­tu­ally won it for the three years pre­vi­ously.

A year on, there are no sec­ond teams in the tour­na­ment. And, ac­cord­ing to Andy Jones, DC’s head of sport, they should be con­sid­ered “dark horses” to re­tain their ti­tle, any­way. “It is fair to say we are not the favourites this year, for the first time in a very long time,” Jones said, cit­ing the ex­cel­lence of Dubai English Speak­ing Col­lege (DESC) in the do­mes­tic schools sea­son to date.

“But we are happy with where we are at, and re­ally ex­cited.”

Jones is well placed to judge, hav­ing over­seen the de­vel­op­ment of the sport both at his school, as well as the Sevens it­self, since he first ar­rived in UAE from the UK in 1999.

“There were so few schools play­ing rugby when I first came here,” Jones said.

“It was about work­ing to get rugby go­ing within the school, but then work­ing with other schools to make rugby stronger across the board.

“When I first got here, it was clubs who pre­dom­i­nantly got boys play­ing.

“Since then, there has been a huge di­ver­sity in the num­ber of schools who play, there are more clubs, too, and it is good to see some Emi­ratis play­ing as well, and girls rugby tak­ing off.

“It has boomed. The strength in depth there is in terms of chil­dren com­ing to us who have al­ready played in pri­mary school makes things so much eas­ier.”

Back when Jones first ar­rived, there was not yet a com­pe­ti­tion ex­clu­sively for Gulf school­boys at The Sevens.

Those who did wish to par­tic­i­pate had to en­ter in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion in­stead.

Now, there will be 16 teams – 10 schools and six clubs – com­pet­ing for the Gulf Un­der 19s ti­tle when the com­pe­ti­tion starts on Thurs­day.

DESC may be the form side, but DC re­main one of the teams to beat, given the school’s pedi­gree in the com­pe­ti­tion. “There is a huge amount of school pride in the build-up to the Sevens ev­ery year,” Michael Lam­bert, the DC head­mas­ter, said.

“The trou­ble is, when you have won it a num­ber of times, Dubai Col­lege sud­denly be­comes the school to beat, and there is quite a lot of pres­sure.

“The boys rise to the chal­lenge, and it be­comes a whole school com­mu­nity event over the week­end.”

Lam­bert terms rugby one of two “mar­quee sports” at DC, with the other be­ing net­ball.

The school cel­e­brates the achieve­ment of their rugby play­ers in the form of a huge poster on the out­side wall of the au­di­to­rium, which is clearly vis­i­ble to driv­ers on Hessa Street, which runs ad­ja­cent to the school.

The head­mas­ter ac­knowl­edges that the pic­ture might need to be up­dated soon to cel­e­brate the school’s net­ball team, who have their own shot at Sevens suc­cess at the week­end, too.

But the mem­o­ries of last year’s fi­nal will not fade any time soon, he says.

“The stars were aligned,” Lam­bert said.

“For a while we had only been able to field one sevens team – we didn’t have enough strength in depth to field two. For it to work out the way it did, was re­mark­able.

“To be able to stand and cheer for Dubai Col­lege in the fi­nal, know­ing the out­come was go­ing to be a good one, was a spe­cial mo­ment.”

It is fair to say we are not the favourites, for the first time in a very long time. But we are happy with where we are at ANDY JONES Head of sport, Dubai Col­lege

Dubai Col­lege A team, in red and black, beat their sec­ond-string side in the Gulf Un­der 19 fi­nal last year

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