x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Escape to the sun just what England need to lift the gloom

Henry Paul, Russia's sevens team coach, returns to the Dubai venue with fond memories.

Henry Paul, who coaches Russia's sevens side, had been part of the England team that won the title at Dubai in 2005.
Henry Paul, who coaches Russia's sevens side, had been part of the England team that won the title at Dubai in 2005.

DUBAI // Saying that Dubai is a home from home for England's rugby players has become a cliche in recent years, but rarely has it been truer than this time around.

A jaunt to the desert just as winter is starting to bite in the UK always helps ease the strain of seasonal affective disorder, and the gloom has rarely been bleaker than it is now.

Given the malaise at the top of English rugby, Twickenham is no fun at present.

It is hardly the first time.

Back in November 2005, England arrived at the Dubai Exiles with a squad pockmarked with scars from their experiences of senior international rugby. A few months before, Mathew Tait, then only 18, had been humiliated in a Test match in Wales.

Henry Paul had not fared much better earlier that season, when he was substituted just 26 minutes into a Test against Australia.

However, between the two of them, with a little help from Tom Varndell, the speedy wing, they guided England's sevens side to a thrilling victory, their second in succession, in the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

"The crowd are very good and they are always on our side," Paul, 37, who is back as a player for the Christina Noble Children's Foundation veterans side, said yesterday.

"Because of all the other events going on around it, the atmosphere is fantastic come the final afternoon."

The ill feeling which has pervaded Twickenham since the Rugby World Cup is unlikely to hinder England's sevens players too much on their world tour.

However, they could do with a pick-me-up after their faltering start to the new world series campaign in Australia at the weekend.

The customary raucous crowd at The Sevens could be just the antidote.

"I immediately noticed how much more excited everyone is to be back where we won last year and this is where most of the boys played their best rugby last year," Mat Turner, the England back, told rfu.com yesterday.

The young core of England's 2005 Dubai vintage looked set for international fame and prosperity, but the likes of Varndell and Tait were nowhere near the reckoning for the recent World Cup in New Zealand.

Paul, who is now the Russia sevens coach, believes they should still have a part to play in the uncertain future of English rugby.

"I think they need to start blooding their young guys and leave them in there for a few games," Paul, the New Zealand-born dual-code international, said.

"They are definitely good enough to represent England. You need faith, though. Those guys are playing good club footy, and that's all they can do.

"Tait's moved to Leicester and Tom Varndell is scoring tries galore for Wasps. If they keep doing that at club level, hopefully, they will get a shot."