x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dubai Sevens: Olympic dream could be a reality for sevens players

With the shorter version of rugby set to become a part of the 2016 Games, many hope winning a gold medal, writes Paul Radley in Dubai.

Bradley Wiggins will represent the Joining Jack veterans side at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.
Bradley Wiggins will represent the Joining Jack veterans side at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

The emerging players in the IRB world series are used to seeing more recognisable faces than their own from the game of rugby knocking around the outside fields at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

Rarely will they ever be genuinely star stuck, though. This weekend the players from England, Wales, Scotland – and possibly France, too – might get that sensation if they see Bradley Wiggins sauntering around in the colours of the Joining Jack veterans team.

It might also give them a little bit of food for thought. As well as being the Tour de France champion, Wiggins is idolised back in the UK on account of his exploits at the Olympics.

Now the players on the international sevens circuit can feasibly think to themselves: that could be me one day.

This is the first series of the four-year cycle leading up to the sport of rugby sevens making its debut at the Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The possibility of becoming an Olympian has already altered the thinking of players who might once have looked to rush through the abridged format.

A stepping stone to the XVs game? Now it could be a stepping stone to Olympic gold.

"We have worked closely with a lot of those sports who did so well in the London Games," said Ben Ryan, the England coach and potential boss of the first GB sevens team.

"I'm a Londoner. My dad was an ex-international athlete and I was a junior international athlete and I loved the Olympics. I couldn't get enough of it. People even talked to each other on the Tube. It was amazing."

The presence of Wiggins will have particular resonance for the England sevens side. Their training base in London is next to the road route on which he won cycling gold.

"Where we train in Teddington is next to where the time trial was," said Rob Vickerman, the England sevens captain.

"Anyone who came past one of our training sessions on a bike we were accusing of being Wiggins -then they did end up coming past.

"We left training, looked down the street and it was lined with thousands and thousands of people watching.

"It really felt like an omen and made us think, yeah, that is what our platform is going to be in four years' time. It just feels like a long route to get there, though."

The players of England, Wales and Scotland are still none the wiser as to the make up of the Great Britain squad which would enter in to qualifying for Rio. Not that it is detracting from current business.

"In rugby, four years is a long time," Vickerman said. "A lot can happen. Thinking back four years from where we are now seems like an absolute age ago.

"There is still a lot to be resolved within GB and the format for that. It is exciting, but we are still focused on the job in hand."

While the men's game has always regarded the XVs World Cup as the ultimate, a potential Olympic gold medal could challenge accepted thinking.

Jen Kish, the captain of the Canada side defending their women's title in Dubai, thinks Olympic gold could certainly become the pinnacle of the women's game.

"When the Olympics were going on we were at a training camp, every day we were watching the Canadians compete and it gave everyone chills," Kish said.

"In four years' time, that's going to be us. We want to represent Canada, medal, and we plan on placing first."

The New Zealand sevens team have been rebranded as the All Blacks sevens team, coinciding with the start of the four-year cycle up to the Olympics.

Gordon Tietjens, who has overseen four triumphant Commonwealth Games campaign, believes aspiring rugby players will now see sevens as a viable alternative to the senior All Blacks.

"I've been to four Commonwealth Games and it is magnificent," Tietjens said. "A lot of players now will aspire to be an All Blacks sevens player.

"The name in itself holds a lot of prestige. I think it will increase the numbers wanting to play, the Olympics could become the pinnacle of any rugby player's dream."

pradley@thenational.ae

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