x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Xodus steal the win from favourites Christina Noble

The charity side had won the past six years, but camaradie in the Scottish-based side saw a change at the top, writes Paul Radley.

Top, Xodus Steelers' Dereck Lee of Xodus Steelers in action in the final match against Christina Noble. Xodus ended their opponents six-year defence of the title. Jake Badger for The National
Top, Xodus Steelers' Dereck Lee of Xodus Steelers in action in the final match against Christina Noble. Xodus ended their opponents six-year defence of the title. Jake Badger for The National

When your multi-capped Springbok back has just laid on the pass for your ex-All Black winger to complete a length-of-the-field, match-winning score, it seems a little bit much to plead that victory was a shock.

Given the prevailing landscape of the International Veterans tournament at the Dubai Rugby Sevens, though, this was seismic.

It was a bit like turning up to see the Harlem Globetrotters edged out by a buzzer-defying basket. It is just not supposed to happen.

When Caleb Ralph ran in under the posts to score his decisive second-try for Xodus Steelers on Pitch 1 yesterday, it ended the longest ongoing winning run in the Sevens.

With the best contacts book in rugby other than the Barbarians, Christina Noble were defending the title for the sixth time.

They had called up the 102-cap South African Percy Montgomery especially for it. They are rugby's version of the Globetrotters.

Sneakily, the Steelers had also recruited shrewdly themselves this season. To their stable of ex-Scotland internationals, they added Thinus Delport, from South Africa, and Ralph, the ex-New Zealand Test player.

And, despite flying under the radar with all the noise surrounding Joining Jack's rugby league stars, as well as the usual hum of Christina Noble, they stole the trophy in the most thrilling fashion.

"Christina Noble are the perennial champions and they came here with big-name players," Delport said.

"We have had a tough run towards the final, and it showed towards the end as the boys stuck together.

"We showed camaraderie which had been building up through the tournament and it was won on the buzzer."

After Ralph had given the Steelers a surprise early lead, they seemed to have bowed to the inevitable when Jim Jenner and Kingsley Jones gave Christina Noble a 10-7 advantage.

The team in orange spent the rest of the final camped in the Steelers 22, but they broke after the hooter to steal it.

"You never think you will lose it," said Delport. "They got the two scores and we thought, well, let's go out with a bang - if we lose we lose, if we win we win.

"Whenever the ball goes to Caleb something happens. If we can create a bit of space for him, generate some front-foot ball, he stands a chance.

"Our forwards have got really heart. They have not always got the glory in this tournament because all the tries have been scored by the backs."

Despite being a masters fixture between two sets of players who had all been there and done that before, it clearly meant much to both sides.

Each even lost a player to a yellow card for scrapping: most uncouth for a vets match.

"What a fantastic effort for a Scottish-based side to come out here and win against some of the best vets teams in the world," said Rowen Shepherd, the former Scotland player who coaches the new champions.

Next year, it will be the Steelers who Christina Noble, hopefully Joining Jack, and all the rest will be gunning for.

"The reigning champions? It feels nice to say that," said Jeremy Bone, who was tasting ultimate success for the first time since setting up the Steelers with his brother eight years ago.

"It feels unbelievable. All week we have been playing well. We were reasonably confident but didn't want to shout too much. Christina Noble are a class side, which is why they have won it so many times.

"It was close in the end, but when you have got guys like Thinus and Caleb in your side, they can make it happen."


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