x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Joining Jack fail in conversion at Dubai Rugby Sevens

League legends were expected to make the final stage but lost in semis to Xodus Steelers.

Jason Robinson of Joining Jack scores a try during the Dubai Rugby Sevens match between Gulf Legends and Joining Jack at The Sevens stadium.
Jason Robinson of Joining Jack scores a try during the Dubai Rugby Sevens match between Gulf Legends and Joining Jack at The Sevens stadium.

DUBAI // Just as word filtered through that the schedule for today's matches had been altered especially to accommodate it, the ultimate box-office final fell by the wayside in the rain yesterday.

The climax to the International Veterans tournament had originally been scheduled to take place on Pitch 2 at 3.30pm this afternoon, while some nondescript activities were to take pride of place on the main field instead.

Granted, these players are 35-and-over. Their best days may be behind them. But there are more recognisable players in this tier of competition than any of the other 14 tournaments here this weekend - including the IRB's.

Perhaps the most luminous of which are not even union players at all, but a bunch of rugby league greats who get Bradley Wiggins to serve their drinks.

Given the hubbub surrounding the visit of Jason Robinson, Martin Offiah, Sean Long and the rest of the Joining Jack charity side, they were under a little bit of pressure to make the final.

However, the hasty conversion from league to union specifically for this weekend eventually proved a bridge too far.

They were beaten in the semi-final of the competition by an Xodus Steelers side who are hardly short on star quality, either.

They were thus deprived a shot at the perennial champions, Christina Noble, who returned to their usual irresistible selves yesterday, having had the unprecedented experience of conceding two tries on Day 1.

Rugby league supporters should maintain their new-found interest in the sevens, though. Christina Noble also have four ex-Super League stars in their ranks.

The difference is Tevita Vaikona, Henry Paul, Robbie Paul and Apollo Perelini all had some grounding in the rudiments of union to call on.

"It is a very different set of skills you have to learn, especially around the tackle and the maul," said Vaikona, who played league for Bradford Bulls and union for Saracens.

"The technical stuff at a ruck and maul are difficult to get to grips with. It isn't a surprise they struggled. In sevens you can get away with it, but once you get to 10s and XVs you can't. Plus, most of their guys are from Lancashire. That is why they are losing - because we are Yorkshire."

According to Robbie Paul, who was playing back alongside Vaikona this weekend with Christina Noble eight years after they were last colleagues in Bradford, league could learn a lot from the Dubai Sevens.

"This is not a tournament, it is a festival and a celebration of the sport," said the younger of the Paul brothers. "It has opened me eyes. I come from rugby league, and this is a lesson rugby league could really learn. There are no boundaries. Everyone is engaging with one another. This is what sport should be.

"I play for a local rugby union team in Huddersfield, so I have a little bit more experience than the Joining Jack players have. I have had an absolute ball."

Xodus are ready to leave behind second place

DUBAI // Having been losing finalists to Christina Noble for the past two years, the Xodus Steelers have grown used to being the bridesmaids in the International Veterans tournament at the Sevens.

They must have feared they were going to be left on the shelf permanently when Joining Jack bustled in to town amid so much fanfare this weekend.

However, the team of ex-Scotland internationals proved there is no substitute for union nous as they beat the former league players 25-0 in their semi-final yesterday.

The Steelers, whose usual collection of Scotsmen has been complemented by two stellar southern hemisphere signings this week, hope it will be third-time lucky when they meet their familiar rivals this afternoon.

“It will be a big challenge if you look at the names they always had,” said Thinus Delport, the former South Africa wing, of the reunion in the final with Christina Noble.

“We have had a tough run, and that has given us confidence in ourselves and the way we play.

“We have been tested and that has brought us together, so we are confident we can give them a good run for their money.”

The Steelers have not scored a point in the past two finals. However, with Caleb Ralph, the former New Zealand winger, providing firepower out wide they appear better placed than ever to mount a genuine challenge.

“We have to raise the standard each year because the other sides do, and Thinus and Caleb have come in and helped do that,” said Jeremy Bone, the founder of the Steelers.

“We know [Christina Noble] are a very good side. They tend to go easy at this stage of the tournament, then when it comes to the final they always give it everything.”

pradley@thenational.ae

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