Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Dubai Sevens: Dubai College 'dark horses' to retain Gulf Under 19s title, says head of sport Andy Jones

Twelve months ago, the country’s leading rugby school achieved something unique, as their first team played against their second team in the final on Pitch 1

Dubai College might have enjoyed more success in the Gulf Under 19s competition than all other schools combined down the years at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

But one thing is already guaranteed ahead of the defence of their title this coming weekend. They will not repeat the duopoly they had last year.

Twelve months ago, the country’s leading rugby school achieved something unique, as their first team played against their second team in the final on Pitch 1.

It was a fine achievement for a school who, while once dominant in the event, had not actually won it for the three years previously.

A year on, there are no second teams in the tournament. And, according to Andy Jones, DC’s head of sport, they should be considered “dark horses” to retain their title anyway.

“It is fair to say we are not the favourites this year, for the first time in a very long time,” Jones said, citing the excellence of Dubai English Speaking College (DESC) in the domestic schools season to date.

“But we are happy with where we are at, and really excited.”

Jones is well placed to judge, having overseen the development of the sport both at his school, as well as the Sevens itself, since he first arrived in UAE from the UK in 1999.

“There were so few schools playing rugby when I first came here,” Jones said.

“It was about working to get rugby going within the school, but then working with other schools to make rugby stronger across the board.

“When I first got here, it was clubs who predominantly got boys playing.

"Since then, there has been a huge diversity in the number of schools who play, there are more clubs, too, and it is good to see some Emiratis playing as well, and girls rugby taking off.

“It has boomed. The strength in depth there is in terms of children coming to us who have already played in primary school makes things so much easier.”

Back when Jones first arrived, there was not yet a competition exclusively for Gulf schoolboys at the Sevens. Those who did wish to participate had to enter international competition instead.

Now, there will be 16 teams – 10 schools and six clubs – competing for the Gulf Under 19s title when the competition starts on Thursday.

DESC may be the form side, but DC remain one of the teams to beat, given the school’s pedigree in the competition.

“There is a huge amount of school pride in the build up to the Sevens every year,” Michael Lambert, the DC headmaster, said.

“The trouble is, when you have won it a number of times, Dubai College suddenly becomes the school to beat, and there is quite a lot of pressure.

“The boys rise to the challenge, and it becomes a whole school community event over the weekend.”

Lambert terms rugby one of two “marquee sports” at DC, with the other being netball.

The school celebrates the achievement of their rugby players in the form of a huge poster on the outside wall of the auditorium, which is clearly visible to drivers on Hessa Street, which runs adjacent to the school.

The headmaster acknowledges that the picture might need to be updated soon to celebrate the school’s netball team, who have their own shot at Sevens success at the weekend, too.

But the memories of last year’s final will not fade any time soon, he says.

“The stars were aligned,” Lambert said.

“For a while we had only been able to field one sevens team – we didn’t have enough strength in depth to field two. For it to work out the way it did, was remarkable.

“To be able to stand and cheer for Dubai College in the final, knowing the outcome was going to be a good one, was a special moment.”

Updated: December 2, 2019 04:07 PM

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