DUBAI // The unheralded students and academy players who make up the Welsh rugby sevens team stunned the game last night by winning the IRB World Cup Sevens title. The Welsh had never even reached a final of an IRB World Series tournament before arriving in the UAE. Yet they took home the Melrose Cup after a 19-12 victory over Argentina in a final few would have predicted at The Sevens, Dubai.
Aged Thomas, a little-known fly-half who plays for London Welsh in the second tier of the English League, touched down the winning try, after earlier tries for the journeymen, Tal Selley and Richie Pugh. The final whistle was greeted with the strains of Tom Jones and was the cue to party for the enclave of Welsh expatriates who populated the stands. The defeat was a sad way for Santiago Gomez Cora, the Argentina captain, to end his career. The veteran has scored more tries than anyone in the history of the IRB World Series, and is now set to retire from the game.
The game's governing body has used this weekend in the UAE as the centrepiece of its marketing drive to get rugby readmitted to the Olympic Games. It hopes the prominence of nations such as Fiji and Samoa, neither of which has won an Olympic medal, will further its case with the International Olympic Committee. The tournament was a triumph for underdogs. That fact was underlined when the top three sides in the world - England, South Africa and New Zealand - plus the holders Fiji, all crashed out at the quarter-final stage.
The pre-tournament favourites, England, fell to a tense, sudden-death extra-time defeat to Samoa, in the last eight. Ben Ryan, the England coach, said: "We obviously had set our sights on winning the World Cup." With the code's big four out of the way, the path was clear for Wales, which beat England's conquerors, Samoa, and for Argentina, which downed Kenya in the semi-finals. While the noise will die down and the memories fade the tournament will be remembered for marking the start of an exciting chapter in the development of sport in the region.
Donal Kilalea, chief executive of Promosevens, the tournament organiser in conjunction with the International Rugby Board (IRB), said that Dubai had proved itself as a leading international sporting venue and that the success of the World Cup would help it secure future tournaments. Andrew Cole, chairman of Arabian Gulf, the host union, said that the tournament had exceeded expectations and firmly placed Dubai on the rugby map. The Arabian Gulf team were seconds away from a debut World Cup victory against Italy but were denied by a last gasp try by their rivals. But Mr Cole said the team did Dubai proud.
"The players were very disappointed not to claim that win against Italy and give the home crowd a win to saviour. But it was a very disciplined and committed performance and bodes well for the future." The attendance on the final day was more than 32,000. A total of 640 athletes, both male and female, competed over the course of the three-day event with several teams, including Brazil, the Netherlands and the Arabian Gulf appearing in the World Cup for the first time.