x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

UAE's 'old guys' keep up the tempo at Borneo Sevens

Sevens is no game for old men, but three elder statesmen of UAE representative rugby proved at this weekend's Borneo Sevens there is no substitute for experience.

Steve Smith, usually a winger for the Dubai Dragons, was part of a 'senior' front-row in the UAE team at the Borneo Sevens.
Steve Smith, usually a winger for the Dubai Dragons, was part of a 'senior' front-row in the UAE team at the Borneo Sevens.

DUBAI // Sevens is no game for old men, but three elder statesmen of UAE representative rugby proved at this weekend's Borneo Sevens there is no substitute for experience.

The way the national sevens team was set up for their matches in the second leg of the HSBC Asian Sevens Series, anyone would have thought their coach was ageist.

Steve Smith, Sean Hurley, who are both wingers, and Stephen Cooper, a centre, are flying backline players in the 15-man game.

However, with each being into their 30s now, they were only deemed suitable to make up the forward pack in the abbreviated format.

Sevens is a hard school. Ben Gollings, who is the sevens game's leading point scorer by a street, is only 31, yet was recently pensioned off by England.

Far from being prejudiced, however, the UAE coach felt the older players in an otherwise raw sevens outfit had a key role to play. Plus he was one of them, anyway.

Hurley was the locum for the absent coach, Shane Thornton, this weekend, and he said he and the rest of the front-row Dad's Army had a point to prove.

"We looked at each other and had a chat, saying we know we are the old guys, but that we had to try to lead the way, and it worked," Hurley, 33, said.

At 32, Cooper still has plenty of rugby left in him, but he has barely played at all in the past two years.

He retired from international sevens after captaining the Arabian Gulf at the 2009 World Cup Sevens in Dubai, but has missed much domestic rugby since after twice breaking his hand.

He only returned to serious training about a month ago. Throw in the fact the UAE were down to nine players for the majority of day two of the Borneo Sevens, and it fair to say his fitness was being tested by the end.

"It was a lot harder than I remember, to be honest," Cooper said. "We were running very light on reserves.

"I got back into the fold less than a month ago, and getting sevens fit, even at this standard, you need a lot longer than that.

"I think the fact we were running low on reserves with all the injuries we had made it much more difficult."

Having made his comeback, the South Africa-born player is keen to stay involved with the national team, especially if they are granted a place in December's Dubai Rugby Sevens.

"I am definitely committed to playing this season," Cooper said. "If we qualify for the Dubai Sevens, I am definitely keen to focus on that, but I believe the decision on that has still to be made."

Cooper's return coincided with an improved performance by the national team in Borneo, as they finished seventh in the 12-team tournament.

"The experience that Sean Hurley, Stephen Cooper and Steve Smith have is second to none," Tim Fletcher, the UAE sevens captain, said.

"It meant that when we had the ball in hand we could relax with it more, and we had the time for the team to get reset.

"When we retained the ball, we won games. That was key for us."

pradley@thenational.ae


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