x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Emotional Abu Dhabi rugby reunion to honour a fallen teammate

The team that won the 2009 Dubai Rugby 7s are reuniting for the 2013 tournament in honour of Marco Speranza, their former teammate who died in a plane crash in Argentina in February.

Marco Speranza, a popular rugby player who used to play for the Abu Dhabi Harlequins, was killed in a plane in Argentina while taking his first flying lesson. Courtesy Speranza family
Marco Speranza, a popular rugby player who used to play for the Abu Dhabi Harlequins, was killed in a plane in Argentina while taking his first flying lesson. Courtesy Speranza family

When Marco Agustin Speranza left Abu Dhabi, his home for many years, to study in Argentina, the country of his birth, he also left a hole in the lives of those he had touched while in the UAE.

But when Marco was killed in a plane while taking his first flying lesson, sadness turned to grief, an emotion as strong today as on February 8 this year, when the accident claimed his life and those of two others.

Marco’s death made headlines both here and in his home country, where he was a well known and universally liked rugby player and a member of the Abu Dhabi Harlequins. And being part of a club or team means they tend to rally around in times of need.

So in Marco’s honour, there will be a newly named team taking part at the Dubai Rugby Sevens tournament in December: Speranza 22.

The team name is made from Marco’s surname and the number he wore on his jersey, and the intention is for all his teammates to reform for the Sevens as the most fitting tribute imaginable.

Rugby was Marco’s life and his flame was snuffed out before it had a chance to really shine. But with his former teammates now spread all over the world, studying at various universities, getting them together is going to take some doing. It is not enough to dissuade Rory Greene, Marco’s former coach.

“They’re in New Zealand, America, Canada, the UK and here in the UAE. And they’ve all leapt at the chance of reforming to honour their teammate at the Sevens,” says Mr Greene.

“But the logistics and the costs involved are quite significant, which is why we’ve set up a fund to sponsor the lads, to pay for their kits, their flights, their accommodation and the actual entry fees for the tournament. And we need to get the word out now, so there’s time to make this happen.”

The costs, he says, amount to around Dh45,000, a surprisingly small amount given what is involved. “We’re being shown a lot of love by a lot of people,” says Mr Greene. “Etihad, for instance, has been extremely generous when it comes to the flight costs. And yes, in the big scheme of things, the amount we need to raise is quite small but it’s still difficult to get people to dip into their pockets.

“Anything, though, no matter how large or small, will help and if there’s a surplus at the end then that will be donated to a charity nominated by Marco’s family.”

And if they can’t raise enough sponsorship money? “That would be dreadful,” Mr Greene admits, “but if I have to, I’ll pay for it to happen out of my own pocket — that’s how much he meant to me and the rest of the club. He was just the most wonderful human being, a real gentleman, a team member and that was off the pitch as well as on it. Nothing will prevent this reunion, the team’s name is on the list and they’ll be playing this year.”

Marco was born on 22 September, 1992, in the Villa Luzuriaga area of La Matanza, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. When he was 6 his family moved to the UAE, where his father Orlando, an aeronautical engineer, worked for Falcon Aviation.

As a fairly late beginner at the age of 15, Marco decided to try rugby (first as a wing and then as fullback) in the Abu Dhabi campus of the English club, Harlequins.

“His smile and sense of humour, in addition to his compassion for all, were exceptional for someone so young,” says Mr Greene. “He was a talented sportsman, but that didn’t make him arrogant. He worked hard but also knew how to have fun. It was a pleasure to be around him.”

Marco will always be remembered for his part in the Sevens tournament of 2009. It is a measure of his natural talent for the sport that, within a couple of years of starting to play rugby, he was a leading member of the team that was victorious in the Gulf Under 18 element of the Sevens, playing on Pitch 1 in front of 40,000 spectators.

Marco’s dream from the age of 4, however, was to become a pilot, perhaps inspired by his father’s work. After completing the first year of his Sports Medicine studies in Argentina, he decided to take flying lessons.

The weather on his first flight was appalling and, despite the presence of two experienced instructors on board, the conditions overcame them.

“His family is still devastated,” says Adam Hughes, Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ junior manager. “It’s still so fresh in the memory, but they’re all behind the reunion and we’re doing it for them as much as anything else. The rugby community in the UAE is incredibly close and tight knit and it’s an honour for us to be able to help them in any way we can to come to terms with their loss. He was like a family member for us, too.

“We are appealing to everyone for donations to this exceptional cause. The club has very kindly offered to manage the donations and properly account for all money received so that there is complete transparency and it’s important to remember that this initiative is proving to be one of the few glimmers of light for the Speranza family at the moment.

“Orlando has said on numerous occasions that it is the one thing that keeps him going, knowing that his son will be remembered in the most appropriate way — through rugby and through the rugby family at Quins. By donating we are all helping a rugby family to get over their grief and will be standing up for everything this great game represents.”

To contribute towards the sponsorship of Speranza 22’s participation at the 2013 Dubai Rugby Sevens, visit here and click on the Donate button.

khackett@thenational.ae