Two amateur rugby clubs in the UAE lent their support to the reigning champions by offering their pitches to train on and organising accomodation.
Fiji find friendly help from Eagles and Dragons ahead of Dubai Rugby Sevens title defence
There was much talk in the lead up to this international rugby weekend about the ethics of providing help for impoverished unions from the Pacific.
England’s players, most notably, opted out of sharing any of their Test match fees with their Samoan counterparts, reasoning that they wanted to avoid accusations of collusion further down the line.
Here in Dubai, meanwhile, two of the city’s amateur rugby clubs did their best to help out Fiji ahead of next weekend’s Rugby Sevens.
And in response they found no quarter given to them on the field, during the “friendly” matches they played against the Olympic gold medalists at Dubai Sports City.
The Fijians had arrived in the UAE ahead of time, hoping to acclimatise and train before the serious business starts next week.
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When their initial plan organised by an international management company fell through, though, they were forced to call in some favours from anyone willing to help.
Dubai Sports City Eagles provided free use of their pitch, while Jebel Ali Dragons managed to arrange accommodation at Bonnington Tower in JLT at short notice, as well as use of Base 3 gym facilities.
In reply, the teams were granted game time against the Flying Fijians. That proved a mixed blessing. Fiji beat the Dragons nine tries to two in the three quarters they played against them, and three to nil in the one the Eagles played.
It was only supposed to be a game of scrag – so one up from touch rugby, but nowhere near as full-on as the full-contact version – but the UAE-based players will still be sporting some bruises now.
And, through it all, the home players were thrilled by the experience.
The teams were the perfect hosts, too. Minutes into the game, the Dragons players realised that, while they had two sets of benches and tables to sit on, the Fijians were sat on the floor at the end of the field. As such, they promptly carried a table down to where their opponents were based.
As kind-hearted as the gesture was, you got the sense it might have been a ruse to go and speak to the Fijians – especially given that three of the four players bearing the load were themselves Fijian.
“We played with some of them during rugby games and tournaments back in Fiji,” Saki Naisau, one of the Fijian players in the Dragons team, said.
“We are rugby mates with them from playing with and against them, and it was a privilege for us to get the chance to come and play against them here.
“They play in tournaments all over the world, they won the Olympics, so it is a great pleasure to play against them.”
Naisau himself was clearly keen to impress. At one point, he broke the line and went on such a mazy run down the left-hand touch line that Chris Davies, the former Abu Dhabi Harlequins coach who is the Fijian team analyst, lost track of him from the drone he was operating.
Niko Volavola, another of the Fijian contingent with the Dragons, said it was in their mind to try and get noticed by their opposition, in case of any availability problems between now and next weekend.
“We were thinking about that,” Volavola said. “When we heard that some of the boys were struggling when they got to the airport, we were thinking they might give us an opportunity to play for the Fijians.
“It is up to them. They have a good team. They are fit enough to take the Dubai Sevens, and we are happy to have played against them.”
The Fijians will be bidding to reclaim their Dubai title – and ultimately the World Series one, too – from South Africa next weekend.
It will be the first Dubai event overseen by Gareth Baber, the coach who took the reins of Fiji at the start of 2017.
“It is amazing at times, and very challenging at others,” Baber said of the task facing his side to live up to the feats of the Olympic and World Series winning side of 2016.
“As a nation, we don’t have some of the facilities and the finances that other nations have, but we obviously have a good group of talent.
“It is about nurturing that talent to come through and compete at the top level and win at the top level. They are going well at the moment, they have trained hard, and I hope to see a lot of that coming out next weekend.”