Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Dubai Sevens: Hunters become the hunted as Dubai Hurricanes aim to defend Gulf Men’s League title

Coach Wernham 'extremely excited' about the team's prospects but admits others 'will be gunning for us'

Dubai Hurricanes coach Mike Wernham saw his team beat Abu Dhabi Harlequins in last year's final. Leslie Pableo for The National
Dubai Hurricanes coach Mike Wernham saw his team beat Abu Dhabi Harlequins in last year's final. Leslie Pableo for The National

When the Dubai Rugby Sevens celebrates its 50th edition next weekend, it is fair to say it will bear to relation to the first tournament staged in 1970.

Back then, matches were played on sand pitches, rolled flat, and with lines marked with bitumen.

A handful of supporters stood at the pitch’s edge, or sat on the back of lorries, and the players arrived ready in their playing kits, as there were no dressing rooms.

Compare that to this weekend, with space for as many as 50,000 supporters, watching leading international players on neatly manicured grass. Kylie Minogue will even be here to sing.

The tournament itself is not the only thing that has changed out of all recognition.

Dubai Hurricanes will be attempting to defend the Gulf Men’s League title next weekend. If they do so, it will be a fine way to celebrate their 20th anniversary.

The club has become a giant of West Asia rugby, with 652 registered players, 191 netball players, 172 volunteers, and the region’s champion sevens team.

All of which is a world away from its humble formation in 1999. Back then, a group of Sharjah Wanderers players who had grown fed up of the journey from their homes in Dubai to play and train opted to set up a new team instead.

They secured sponsorship from Mina Seyahi, and trained on the grass at the hotel – a landmark that has seen new Dubai emerge around it.

The club’s name itself stems from the fact replica shirts of the Wellington Hurricanes’ Super rugby franchise were the only ones they could get hold of at short notice.

They needed 50 shirts – for the players and supporters – for the new team’s competitive debut at the Dubai Rugby Sevens. Hence they became the Hurricanes.

The pioneering team was, in fact, known as the Mina Seyahi Hurricanes, as a result of that sponsorship agreement. The name was changed to its current guise when they subsequently entered 15-a-side competition.

In their two decades in existence, the club have won the Gulf Men’s League title twice, including last year when they beat Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the final.

Mike Wernham, the Hurricanes coach, says his players are intent on a return trip to the main field, where the final will be played at 12.44pm on Saturday.

“We are extremely excited about the prospect of playing on Pitch 1 again,” Wernham said.

“We have only done that once in quite a while. Fortunately we got the rub of the green last year and gone the win, but we are under no illusions that it is just going to be given to us again.

“We are going to have to fight for every ball, and every point that comes our way we will be grateful for.”

Hurricanes’ players are well used to the surroundings at The Sevens, given the club play home matches there all through the season.

But Boris Finck, the Hurricanes captain, says the feeling of the Sevens weekend is unique.

“It was unreal soaking in that atmosphere last year, and a phenomenal feeling of winning as well,” Finck said.

“We are still feeling quite confident, but we know the pressure is on us because we want to defend the title.

“All the other teams will be gunning for us. But with the line-up we have got, I am still confident we can do well in the tournament.”

The holders begin their title defence against Dubai Exiles, who were the previous champions, with Bahrain and Dubai Tigers 2 the other sides in their pool.

“One of our big focus points has been the fact we have gone from being a chaser to being chased by others,” Wernham said.

“People know we are defending champions, and we have been trying to change people mindsets to going from being the chasers to the chased.

“We have a target on us. We know that people aren’t going to be taking us lightly, and it is about channelling our focus and making sure we deliver.”

Updated: December 2, 2019 03:15 PM

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