England lead winning start for top sides at World Sevens Series in Dubai
Dan Bibby scores try in his 50th tournament for England as Dubai Rugby Sevens gets off to a quiet start
Dan Bibby scored a try in the first game of his 50th tournament for England, as the leading World Sevens Series sides all enjoyed winning starts to the 50th Dubai Rugby Sevens.
By Dubai’s raucous standards, it was an eerie start to the World Series event. This was the first time ever matches in the showpiece tournament have been played on a Thursday.
When the floodlights are on at this ground, the international players are used to playing in front of teeming stands, with Sweet Caroline being belted out by thousands.
Instead, the seats were sparsely populated, and for much of the time the players’ voices could be heard echoing across the pitch to each other.
The ambiance elsewhere within the Sevens Stadium grounds was similarly odd.
It felt as though everyone was waiting around for the main attraction to start, which for once might not necessarily be the rugby.
A vast chunk of the grass bank adjacent to the halfway line on Pitch Two has been cut away to make space for the stage where Kylie Minogue will be performing once play has finished on Friday night.
At least Bibby had brought along a sizeable cheer squad to bloat the numbers in the stands lining Pitch One. The England playmaker has a number of members of his family here to see his landmark tournament, including his two young sons, while his dad presented his shirt to him ahead of the tournament.
He gave them all something to cheer, playing a leading role as England overcame a slow start to beat Spain 36-7.
“It is always cool to [score a try] in any game, but especially in the 50th, it was a pretty special one,” said Bibby, whose try cancelled out the early score by Spain.
New Zealand began their Dubai title defence with a 36-7 win. Tim Mikkelson, the New Zealand captain who has been playing on the series since 2007, said it felt like an unusual day.
“It has been a long day, and a mental challenge to stay ready to play at 5pm,” Mikkelson said.
“We had a pool session, but the boys were itching to get out there. We went and had a coffee, played some cards, and tried to stay nice and relaxed.
“But it is awesome to come here to Dubai again. Every year they do something that blows me away. This year, there are more things out the back, and there is Kylie Minogue.
“It is one of my favourite tournaments, and I am looking forward to getting back and playing in a packed stadium tomorrow.”
Trae Williams, the Australian sprint star who has converted to sevens and is debuting in Dubai, made a relatively quiet start to life on the series.
“Quadzilla,” as he is nicknamed, was a second-half substitute in their emphatic 43-14 win over Scotland.
The last time a player had arrived on the scene with such a reputation for speed was in 2012 when Carlin Isles came from Olympic sprint trials to debut for the United States.
Isles caught the eye immediately back then, scooting in for a remarkable try with his first touch of the ball.
Williams was not afforded such an opportunity in attack for Australia in Dubai, but did standout for a courageous, last-ditch try-saving tackle with the game already won against Scotland.
“It is a remarkable first touch in international rugby to have a try-saving tackle, when everyone thinks you’re this attacking weapon,” Tim Walsh, Australia’s coach, said.
“It is real credit to Trae. He really prides himself on his defence. It was nice to see, and a great welcome to the game for him.”
Another well-known flier, Perry Baker, scored with his first touch of the ball after coming on as a second-half replacement, as United States eventually ended a plucky challenge from tournament newcomers Ireland.
Defending world series champions Fiji beat Japan 24-17 while South Africa beat Kenya 17-12 in the final match of the night.
Updated: December 5, 2019 10:11 PM