x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Army officer to spearhead England bid at Dubai Sevens

Isoa Damudamu, the Fiji-born forward, is expected to stage his comeback at the Dubai Sevens after a nine-month lay-off with a shoulder injury.

Isoa Damudamu, with the ball, is a man in a hurry. After playing in Dubai and the ensuing South Africa Sevens, he will be return to the UK to cram in a variety of Army courses.
Isoa Damudamu, with the ball, is a man in a hurry. After playing in Dubai and the ensuing South Africa Sevens, he will be return to the UK to cram in a variety of Army courses.

DUBAI // While the iPad chalk-boards, GPS tracking systems and travelling psychologists show how far professionalism has changed the IRB sevens, some vestiges of rugby's past will still be evident at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

England's bid to win a first Emirates International Trophy since 2005 this weekend will be spearheaded by a player who should belong to the amateur era, given his wealth of commitments outside the sport.

Isoa Damudamu, their Fiji-born forward, dislocated his shoulder twice in the last nine months. It was a major loss to the England side, of which he has been a mainstay since 2007, but probably had a greater impact on his day job.

Damudamu is a port and maritime officer in the British Army, and fits being one of the world's leading sevens players around it.

After playing in Dubai and the ensuing South Africa sevens in George, he will be return to the UK to see if he has won the Army's Sports Personality of the Year award. Then he will have to cram in a variety of Army courses before he joins up with England again.

Even though he is yet to return to top speed following his rehabilitation from his shoulder injuries, Ben Ryan, his coach, would not be without him. "He is still finding his feet a little bit, but Damudamu is an exceptional player," Ryan said. "I am really glad I got him on board because he is a top guy on and off the field. He is like what we used to have in rugby. He is a professional amateur in that he has a proper job that the Army require him to be there for. He has to work for his career too."

England arrived in Dubai in the unusual position of having a settled side, with 13 of their 14 man tour party having played at The Sevens previously.

"It probably makes some of the other coaches a little jealous that we have managed to retain so many players," Ryan said.

"It gives the players a confidence boost that the management think they are good enough to hold on to and build together for the year. We are happy we are not starting from scratch with a different team."

Few of the other sides have enjoyed such a luxury. There is a South African side playing this weekend who have plenty of experience of winning IRB tournaments. However, it is the International Marauders side appearing in the International Invitational tournament rather than Paul Treu's Springboks.

A number of the Marauders were part of the squad which Treu took to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, included two former captains Paul Delport and Neil Powell.

Marius Schoeman, a Springboks stalwart, will also have a watching brief after he fractured a cheekbone in a training game against the Arabian Gulf at Dubai College before the Commonwealth Games. He is coaching the Marauders instead.

New Zealand, the defending champions, also have less than half the players who won gold at the Delhi Games. However, they will still start as favourites to carry off a title they have won more than any other nation come Saturday.

"The likes of Zac Guildford, Liam Messam, Sherwin Stowers and Fritz Lee are all with Super 15 squads now but I've retained a strong nucleus for the World Series," Gordon Tietjens, the New Zealand coach, said.