x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Joining Jack a joy to have at Dubai Rugby Sevens

Veterans' side a welcome addition, writes Paul Radley, as he looks at the best and worst of this year's competition.

Jo Czerpak, left, mans the defences for Stefan's BHF, as Dafydd James holds the ball for Christina Noble. Jake Badger for The National
Jo Czerpak, left, mans the defences for Stefan's BHF, as Dafydd James holds the ball for Christina Noble. Jake Badger for The National

Best display – Stefan's BHF

Coming into this competition, Christina Noble were on a winning streak lasting back six years in the International Veterans.

Last year, they did not concede a point in the whole tournament. Not a complete surprise, given their team is saturated with former Test greats.

Other well-to-do teams are able to recruit former Springboks and All Blacks to help bridge the gap. The Abu Dhabi schoolteacher who runs Stefan's White & Case BHF, by contrast, called up his brother and some mates to play.

In Thursday's pool defeat against the all-stars, they controlled possession and took the first points off them since December 2010.

Sam Czerpak scored the first try, and later outpaced the great Percy Montgomery in a foot race.

Jo Czerpak, the organiser, scored the second, then felled Tevita Vaikona, who is at least twice his size, with a tackle.

You can be sure father Stefan, whose memory the team was set up to honour, as well as raise funds for the British Heart Foundation, would have been proud.

Worst car trip – Reyal

Abu Dhabi Harlequins gave a good account of themselves in their Gulf Men's final defeat against the dominant force of domestic sevens rugby, Jebel Ali Dragons.

They were within touching distance the whole time. What they could have done with was an x-factor.

They have two of those on their books. Jeremy Manning's decision to play for Samurai Wailers in the International Invitational was sanctioned long ago.

Imad Reyal, arguably the most watchable player anywhere in any of the 15 tournaments this weekend, opted out on the eve of the event.

He played for Hunters Seven in the International Social instead. The fact he was outstanding as they won their tournament may grate down Abu Dhabi way.

If the atmosphere is a little frosty next time he hitches a lift to training with Chris Davies, the Quins director of rugby and fellow Dubai resident, it will not be because the AC is up too high.

Best addition – Joining Jack

They did not have a clue what to do at a line-out. Most of them thought a maul was somewhere people in Dubai go shopping.

At one point in their first match of the weekend, all 10 of their players joined in to try to stop a Gulf Veterans maul. And many hands were making heavy work it.

And yet if any team should be welcomed back to The Sevens, it is Joining Jack, the team of former international rugby league players raising money for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research.

Not because they are all stars – but because they act like just the opposite. They could not have been more grateful to be here. They might have struggled with the conversion on the field, but they were all converts to The Sevens.

"Hey Brian, these teams go to Vegas as well," Kris Radlinski said with wide-eyed awe at lunchtime on Friday to his teammate Brian Carney. They fancy a bit more of this.

Worst ire – New Zealand

Gordon Tietjens, the New Zealand coach, is always good value with the media. Last year, though, one subject was off limits. Mention the newly introduced seeding system, by which the draw is made for the following tournament, and it would like send him into meltdown.

Time has not withered his rage. The topsy-turvy results in Dubai this time round have meant New Zealand have been drawn in the same pool as England and Fiji for this week's tournament in South Africa. Pool D, meanwhile, contains USA, Canada, Portugal and Zimbabwe.

"It is ridiculous just having three seeds – all the semi-finalists should be rewarded," Tietjens said. "Perhaps I am a bit traditional when it comes to seedings of tournaments.

"It is a way we all have to get used to as teams, and you are going to strike some draws like that."

Best pick-me-up – Tomkins

Usually, rugby league players would prefer to eat their own boots rather than play union. Then Joining Jack's charity side make a high-profile trip to the Dubai Sevens, as suddenly they can't get enough of it.

On Friday afternoon, despite England's woes on the field, Sam Tomkins, the leading figure in UK rugby league, tweeted that he was watching on TV back at home and would love to have a crack at it.

Ben Ryan, England's coach, was grateful for the pick-me-up when he heard about it. "Watch this space," he said.

After a few tweets heading back and forth between Dubai and Wigan later, it was clear Tomkins is dead set on the idea.

He would be immense in sevens. England should sign him up.


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