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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Dubai Rugby Sevens: Old boy Chris Davies thankful to UAE community for helping Fiji out of a jam

Fijian analyst grateful to Jebel Ali Dragons and Bonnington group for providing tune-up matches and accommodation for hard up Pacific Islanders

Jasa Veremalua of Fiji scores a try against England in the Cup Final during the 2015 Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens. Warren Little / Getty Images
Jasa Veremalua of Fiji scores a try against England in the Cup Final during the 2015 Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens. Warren Little / Getty Images

Fiji's bid to regain the Dubai Rugby Sevens title has received a helping hand from the UAE rugby community.

Just as they did during their Olympic gold-medal and World Series winning campaigns of 2016, the Fijians have a former Abu Dhabi Harlequins head coach on their coaching staff.

Back then, Jeremy Manning was the kicking coach working under Ben Ryan. Now Chris Davies, who was Manning's predecessor at Harlequins before he left for a job in Hong Kong four and a half years ago, is their analyst.

Fiji are already reaping the benefits of his local knowledge. Davies was urgently forced to scour his UAE rugby contacts book when a planned preparatory trip to the Emirates fell through.

The World Series teams officially start their build up to the Sevens, which takes place on December 1 and 2, on Monday, when all the teams are billeted to the same hotel in Dubai.

However, Fiji have had a successful track record at the tournament in recent years having spent time acclimatising in advance.

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For several years this meant training and playing in Abu Dhabi, while last year they headed to Doha.

This time around they had planned a trip that would have seen them spend some time in Ras Al Khaimah. But when that fell through at the 11th hour, Davies had to set about finding a solution.

Thanks to the resourcefulness of Jebel Ali Dragons in particular, Fiji landed accommodation at Bonnington Tower in JLT, and use of Base 3 gym facilities. They also have practice matches lined up against the Dragons themselves, as well as Dubai Sports City Eagles on Saturday.

“We either had to pull out totally, or still try and go for it,” Davies said of Fiji’s travel plans ahead of their trip to Dubai.

“It was so far down the line that, if we were lucky, we were only going to get 50 per cent return on our air tickets.

“We haven’t got the money to do that. We reached out, and Jebel Ali Dragons have been absolutely outstanding.”

Chris Davies, left, during his time as director of rugby at Abu Dhabi Harlequins, called on some old friends to help out the Fijian sevens team, with whom he is an analyst, when the team needed help ahead of the 2017 Dubai Rugby Sevens. Sammy Dallal / The National
Chris Davies, left, during his time as director of rugby at Abu Dhabi Harlequins, called on some old friends to help out the Fijian sevens team, with whom he is an analyst, when the team needed help ahead of the 2017 Dubai Rugby Sevens. Sammy Dallal / The National

Stuart Quinn, the Dragons chairman, knew Davies from his time in the UAE, and was keen to help when he received the call.

“It was a kind of cry for help, and I just rang around some of the hotel people that I knew,” Quinn said.

“Unfortunately, not many of the hotels really got what we were trying to do, which was help a poor union out of a really sticky situation.

“The people at Bonnington, being Irishmen and rugby fans, said they had to sort this out, and they came to the rescue. It was nice to see there are good people in the world.”

Saturday’s warm-up matches at Dubai Sports City will provide the Dragons with a chance to fine tune their own game ahead of their bid to regain the Gulf Men’s title at The Sevens.

The friendly fixture will be particularly pertinent for their core of Fijian players. And if the Olympic champions have any sudden availability problems ahead of the tournament, Saki Naisau, in particular, might be keen to point out that he is here if they need him.

“Having a run around with the Fijian boys will be fantastic for our team, but especially so for the Fijian guys that we have, because they are big heroes of theirs,” Quinn said.

“Hopefully the Fijians will be taking a Dragon as their mascot for the Sevens, which will be fantastic.”

For Davies, who is contracted with Fiji initially up until the World Cup Sevens in San Francisco next summer, it has already been a happy return to the UAE.

“It just reaffirms to me that there are some great people out there in rugby, and this is a great rugby community,” Davies said.