Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Dubai Sevens: fixtures, must-see games and all you need to know

The Dubai Rugby Sevens is celebrating its 50th year

The 50th Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens will start on Thursday, December 5, with finals day on Saturday, December 7.

It is the first leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series for men, and the second leg for the Women’s World Sevens Series.

New Zealand are the defending Dubai champions in both the men’s and women’s tournaments.

As ever, there will be plenty of action beyond the main field. Over 290 teams – including netball – will be in competition at various corners of The Sevens over the course of the three-day weekend.

Oh, and Kylie Minogue will be performing on stage, too …

When are the matches?

There is a break from tradition this year as the Dubai Sevens is being played a week later than its customary National Day weekend time-slot.

As per usual, admission is free on the Thursday. That means, for the first time, spectators will be able to see action from the men’s World Series tournament without charge.

A new feature of this year’s tournament is the fact the men’s tournament will have matches on all three days – rather than just the Friday and Saturday as in the past.

One round of World Series matches will be played on the Thursday afternoon, starting at 5.06pm on Pitch One.

The women’s tournament will also be played across three days, with the final on Saturday evening – rather than on the Friday, as had been the case in recent years.

Where does it take place?

All matches will be played on the pitches at The Sevens stadium on the Dubai-Al Ain Road.

Who will win the main event?

South Africa have the best record in Dubai in recent times, having won the Emirates International Trophy in three of the past five years.

New Zealand’s win last year was their first success since 2009. England, the best supported side at The Sevens, have not tasted victory here since their back-to-back wins in 2010 and 2011.

United States were runners up in Dubai 12 months ago, and also finished second behind Fiji in the overall World Series campaign.

All of which means Fiji will likely start as favourites. Their World Series win last season was their third in the past five seasons, and Dubai marks the start of a season that will end with them trying to defend their Olympic Games title.

Why is it important?

The sevens season is book-ended by major events in Japan.

Rugby fans are still on a come-down after the World Cup finished in the country last month.

The World Sevens Series starts in Dubai, and culminates in Paris at the end of May 2020.

And the players’ next assignment after that will be the Tokyo Olympics in July 2020.

Dubai, World Sevens Series pools

A – Fiji, France, Argentina, Japan

B – United States, Australia, Scotland, Ireland

C – New Zealand, Samoa, Canada, Wales

D – South Africa, England, Spain, Kenya

What are the must-see matches?

Given the fact there is wall-to-wall rugby over the course of the three days, it is difficult to know which games to watch.

Here are a few that will be worth the effort:

Thursday, December 5

10am, Pitch Five, International Vets, Joining Jack v Pontacq Seven

The international vets is actually a 10-a-side tournament for players aged 35-and-over. It is the tournament which contains more recognisable faces than any other.

Joining Jack usually have the most household names. Andy Farrell, the Ireland coach, has played for them in the past – and his son Owen was a supporter.

This year, they will have the likes of former England internationals Tom May and Nick Easter, as well as stars from rugby league like Robbie Farah and Pat Richards.

11.40am, Pitch Two, International Vets, 100 World Legends Project v Mako Malta Marauders

The 100 World Legends team are back to defend the international vets title they won a year ago with a side that included the former World Sevens player of the year Ollie Phillips.

4.42pm, Pitch One, Women’s World Series, New Zealand v Japan

New Zealand won four of the six Women’s World Series tournaments last season, including the opener in Dubai.

The opposition in the opening match of their Dubai defence, Japan, are building up to their home Olympic campaign in July.

5.06pm, Pitch One, World Sevens Series, Samoa v Canada

This will be the first time a men’s World Series fixture will have been played on a Thursday at The Sevens.

It will pit Samoa against a Canada team coached by Henry Paul, the former England player who was a resident of Dubai up until last year, as coach of Jebel Ali Dragons.

Friday, December 6

10.50am, Pitch One, Women’s World Series, New Zealand v England

Since the women’s series first came to Dubai in 2012, the title has been shared between New Zealand and Australia.

New Zealand have won the four titles in even years, while their Tasman rivals have taken the title in all of the odd years.

England have yet to even make the final, so this will be a tough test of their credentials.

4pm, Pitch Eight, Gulf Men’s League, Dubai Hurricanes v Bahrain

Bahrain are the leading club in West Asia rugby at present, as the reigning Premiership champions.

However, the Hurricanes – who are tenants at The Sevens – were peerless in the abridged format last year, and will aim to repeat their title win.

6.12pm, Pitch One, World Sevens Series, United States v Australia

Mike Friday has been a fixture at the Sevens for over two decades. When he won back-to-back titles as England coach in 2004 and 2005, it was no shock, given that country’s pedigree in the sport.

The way he has made United States perennial contenders is scarcely believable, though. They were defeated finalists in Dubai in 2018, and went on to finish second in the overall series.

7.54pm, Pitch One, World Sevens Series, South Africa v England

The showpiece fixture on Friday – or the final warm-up act for Kylie, depending on your point of view – pits together the two countries who contested the World Cup final in the 15-a-side.

England and the Blitz Boks are just as fierce rivals in the short format, too.

Saturday, December 7

Selected finals schedule

12.44pm, Pitch One, Gulf Men’s League

1.06pm, Pitch One, International Vets

4.20pm, Pitch Two, Gulf Women

4pm, Pitch Two, Gulf Under 19 Girls

6.33pm, Pitch One, Women’s World Series

7.02pm, Pitch One, World Sevens Series

Updated: December 3, 2019 07:04 PM

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