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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Ex-Arabian Gulf player eyes 'dream' return to the Dubai Rugby Sevens

Haydn Palmer, whose formative years were spent in the UAE learning rugby, hopes to one day be picked to represent Wales at the showpiece event

Haydn Palmer, who was raised in the Gulf, represented the Wales development sevens side at a tournament in England. Courtesy Haydn Palmer
Haydn Palmer, who was raised in the Gulf, represented the Wales development sevens side at a tournament in England. Courtesy Haydn Palmer

A Gulf-raised rugby player has had his hopes revived of one day returning to play at the Dubai Rugby Sevens in the colours of Wales after representing the country’s development side.

Haydn Palmer was picked to play for the side of emerging Wales players at a tournament in England on Sunday.

Selection for that team was a major boost for a player whose promising career has been beset by serious injury problems.

It has also allowed him to dream again of playing for Wales on the World Sevens Series – having once played against them for the now-defunct Arabian Gulf in front of 40,000 people at The Sevens, Dubai.

“Representing my country at any level, even if development is as far as I go, I would still be over the moon that I have been involved with the Wales set up,” Palmer, 26, said.

“I am so happy I have been able to do that. If I got a cap for the Welsh sevens team, that would be a dream come true in itself.

“For it to be back at home, in front of family and friends in Dubai, and people I have played with and against, I don’t think there would be any better pinnacle for me to achieve than that. It would be a dream.”

Palmer grew up in the Gulf after his parents, Nigel and Jayne, moved first to Bahrain 23 years ago when he was aged three.

He learnt all his rugby here, subsequently representing Dubai Hurricanes. He also played for the Arabian Gulf while still a teenager, at the 2010 Sevens, which was the last before the Gulf representative side was replaced by the new UAE Rugby Federation.

He moved to Cardiff – where he was born – for university, as well as to pursue rugby. He trained with the Welsh development sevens team soon after, but his progress was interrupted by two major ankle injuries, the first keeping him out for nine months, the second for a whole year.

Haydn Palmer, top row left, who was raised in the Gulf, represented the Wales development sevens side at a tournament in England. Courtesy Haydn Palmer
Haydn Palmer, top row left, who was raised in the Gulf, represented the Wales development sevens side at a tournament in England. Courtesy Haydn Palmer

Even after re-joining the set up, and excelling in Welsh Premiership rugby with Newport, his bid for a place on Wales sevens’ summer European tour last year was thwarted by a toe operation. He acknowledges all the injury troubles tested his resolve.

“After [the two initial ankle injuries] I was not sure whether I wanted to knock it on the head or play again,” Palmer said.

“My parents and a couple of family friends suggested I try it again and I fell back in love with it. I started getting involved with the sevens more often.

“When I was first involved with the development set up I started to really like it.

“Then last year it was hard, being 25 and having to have another operation. But because I had been doing so well and sort of had that foot in the door, I wanted to continue pushing one more time to see if I could have a real go at it.

“So far, it has gone pretty well this year.”

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Read more:

Rory Arthur: Injury consigned to the past, Dubai Exiles youngster faces a bright rugby future

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Palmer, who dovetails training with the Wales sevens development side and his club with a day job as a lettings consultant, is maintaining an impressive family legacy by excelling at sport.

He followed his father Nigel in representing the Gulf at rugby, while his mother Jayne was a Wales international in basketball.

And Palmer’s maternal grandfather Derek Tapscott won 14 caps for Wales as a centre-forward, in a career that saw him play club football for Cardiff City and Arsenal.

“On the same day that Haydn played for the Welsh side, Cardiff City were promoted to the Premier League,” pointed out father Nigel.

Haydn said: “I am more of an Arsenal fan because that was more who my grandad told me about when I was growing up, and he took me to Highbury. Hopefully I can get tickets to Cardiff City against Arsenal next season.”

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