x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Underdogs Wales hoping lightning strikes twice

Welsh supporters could well be forgiven for heading to the The Sevens today with modest expectations. It has already worked for them once this year.

DUBAI // Welsh supporters could well be forgiven for heading to the The Sevens today with modest expectations. It has already worked for them once this year. When they arrived for the Sevens World Cup in March even the players had not considered their chances of causing an upset. Three days later the academy players, journeymen and students comprising the squad went home as world champions.

On the back of the success their coach, Paul John, won the Coach of the Year title at the Welsh Council for Sport awards, ahead of the likes of Warren Gatland, the head coach of the more celebrated 15s side. Now he is going to have to prove his credentials all over again with a new-look squad which includes just one player, the Dragons flanker Craig Hill, from the World Cup-winning side. "We have a much, much less experienced squad now, those boys who played when we won the World Cup had played three or four years of sevens," said John.

"These are potential players, players who could become reasonable players. We are starting afresh, and it will be interesting to see how well they do in this environment." Eight players are competing in their first international tournament and John said the sevens side are starting to gain recognition in a country where 15s rugby is everything. They have been able to centrally contract eight players since their World Cup triumph.

"The World Cup has done wonders for raising the profile of sevens in Wales," said John. "For the first time we have be able to award caps. From now on, every player who represents Wales in sevens will get a cap, so the profile is raising. "Having core contracted players also means we can be consistent in selection, which is the main thing." @Email:pradley@thenational.ae