There are numerous ways teams will be preparing for this weekend’s Dubai Rugby Sevens – but not many can claim to have tested their mettle against the current Olympic champions.
But that’s exactly what Jebel Ali Dragons have been doing as they prepare to knock three-time defending Gulf Men’s League champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins off their perch.
It’s a perch Dragons scaled not too long ago, winning five tournaments in a six-year span from 2009-13, before Quins’ era of success began and coincided with Dragons’ demise.
It’s a special tournament for Dragons and everyone connected with the club, one they’d love to win even more in their 25th anniversary year.
They may have felt they had bitten off more than they can chew, as they warmed up for the Sevens with a ‘friendly’ run-out against the Rio 2016 gold medalists in Dubai on Sunday that could be described as anything but friendly.
“It’s was meant to be a game of scrag (level up from touch) and quickly turned into some big shots from the Fijian lads after we scored our first try,” said Dragons’ New Zealand pocket rocket flanker Matt Henry.
“We agreed it would be a conditioned game of ‘grab’ but it quickly escalated into some big hits and carries from both sides. I was the unlucky recipient of one hit and got absolutely smashed,” revealed Dragons Scottish skipper and scrum-half Ross Samson.
The Flying Fijians beat Dragons nine tries to two during a game played over three quarters, the highlight being a mazy run from Dragons’ Fijian centre Saki Nasau that almost resulted in a memorable score.
Meanwhile, Dubai Eagles, who lent the Fijians their Dubai Sports City training facility, were also granted a quarter and were downed three tries to nil.
The Dubai duo had stepped in to help the Pacific Islanders after their initial plans organised by an international management company had fallen through – something similar had seen Fiji assisted by Quins in recent years.
Dragons chairman Stuart Quinn had arranged accommodation for the Fijians, put up at JLT’s Bonnington Tower in JLT at short notice, as well as use of Base 3 gym facilities, while Eagles provided their pitch.
It will no doubt have been a welcome gesture for Fiji and coach Gareth Baber, who took over from gold medal-winning coach Ben Ryan at the start of the year, and forged yet stronger ties between the nation and UAE rugby.
Dragons, meanwhile, feel their Sevens preparations were supremely enhanced, even if they had to take a few bumps and bruises in the process.
“It was an amazing experience,” added Henry.
“We got a huge amount out of it all. They’ve exposed our weaknesses like most teams we will come up against could never do, so that’s invaluable heading into this Sevens week.
“All the boys were pumped to get out there and play, and I think we loved seeing Saki (Nasau) turn their winger inside out.
“This next week is huge for us as a club and we have a full sevens squad of about 30 putting in a lot of extras. I think you’ll see a Dragons contingent like no other on and off the field next weekend.”
Having lost in the final to Quins a year ago, former Scotland sevens player Samson says Dragons have a burning desire to win this year.
“It’s no secret that Dubai Sevens is our favourite time of year as a club and we will be doing absolutely everything we can to win every tournament we are in with our ones, twos, super threes and vets,” said Samson.
“We were delighted to be able to help them and Stu pulled out all the stops to make sure they got sorted.
“It was good to get a taste of the physicality and fitness required at that level and any mistakes by us were quickly punished.
“We held our own in defence and scored two tries against them as well as a few clean line breaks so it was nice to see these guys were human and made mistakes too.”
Gulf Men’s League history:
2008 Dubai Dragons 41 Dubai Exiles 12
2009 Dubai Dragons 47 Dubai Hurricanes 12
2010 Barrelhouse Yobs 22 Dubai Exiles 15
2011 Jebel Ali Dragons 29 Abu Dhabi Harlequins 7
2012 Jebel Ali Dragons 14 Abu Dhabi Harlequins 5
2013 Jebel Ali Dragons 19 Abu Dhabi Harlequins 7
2014 Abu Dhabi Harlequins 27 Doha 5
2015 Abu Dhabi Harlequins 36 Al Ain Amblers 14
2016 Abu Dhabi Harlequins 26 Jebel Ali Dragons 14
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