x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Before Dubai Sevens, Xodus Steelers ‘are in a good place’

Defending International Veterans champions Xodus have been steeled by the return of Jason White at the Dubai Rugby Sevens, writes Paul Radley.

Dereck Lee of Xodus Steelers in action at Dubai Rugby Sevens. Jake Badger for The National
Dereck Lee of Xodus Steelers in action at Dubai Rugby Sevens. Jake Badger for The National

DUBAI // In a match containing more recognisable faces from rugby’s past than any other last year, Xodus Steelers ended the longest winning streak in Dubai when they beat Christina Noble in the International Veterans final.

Given the fact their winning try was scored by a former All Black and laid on by an ex-Springbok, it seems fanciful to think their success was a surprise.

But it was true.

With all the excitement surrounding the Dubai debut of Joining Jack, plus the return of Christina Noble’s gilded household names, the Steelers managed to fly below the radar back then.

One look at their tour party this time around suggests they will struggle to pull that stunt again.

They have seven former Scotland internationals, two from New Zealand, plus one apiece from South Africa, Spain and Argentina, all overseen by the former Scotland coach Frank Hadden.

To emphasise the idea, the defending champions have strengthened up, with their forwards coach from last year, Jason White, joining the playing ranks this time around.

One of the world’s leading loose-forwards at his peak, with 77 Test caps, it is fair to say he is a useful addition.

White has been a regular visitor to these shores in the past, but this will be his playing debut, and he is slightly apprehensive.

“I think the hardest thing will be having to play multiple games in one day,” White said of the 10-a-side vets tournament.

“With old and battered bodies, they can take a bit longer to get going again, so the warm-ups for some of the games could be tough.

“It would be too arrogant to say we are going to win it, but I am sure we will be competitive. You need a little bit of luck with injuries and the bounce of the ball.”

With the debut of J9 Legends, retaining the Vets crown will be arguably the toughest assignment of any side in any event this weekend.

“We’re fully aware that the standard is getting better year on year and have again had to step up our squad this year,” said Colin Bone, the Steelers president and the club co-founder in 2004.

“With the core returning from last year and some very talented players coming in to enhance our squad, we feel that we are in a really good place.

“It is always such a great event, and with quality players across all the teams, there are no easy games, but that said, we are here looking to repeat last year.”

Not that the prospect of a final triumph in front of 45,000 fans on Saturday is the sole driver, according to White.

“Primarily it is a great chance to spend some times with your mates and I can’t think of a better place to do it,” White said.

“Last year, it was a brilliant finish to a great final with Caleb Ralph scoring the winning try for us. We thought the game was lost, but what a way to finish the game.”

Steelers open on Thursday against Malta Marauders.

pradley@thenational.ae

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