Starmers: Glorious Dubai at the double
Renowned rugby broadcaster Nigel Starmer-Smith writes ahead of the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, the second round of the HSBC Sevens World Series and first round of the brand new women's Series.
What a prospect - round two for the men's HSBC Sevens World Series but interlaced with the first ever round of the new IRB Women's Sevens World Series.
It's fascinating to see the tactical changes and contrasts in player personnel amongst the 16 squads in the men's event as coaches almost certainly look to unearth new talent in a season that ends with the Sevens World Cup.
Take, for example, the Gold Coast champions Fiji. They won in Surfers Paradise with seven of their side making their debuts. But now head coach Alifereti Dere rings the changes again. In come another seven players who have never yet played for Fiji - I guess his unique problem is that he has too many outstanding players to choose from!
There are others testing out newcomers too. New Zealand have three rookies alongside two stars from the past on recall, Sherwin Stowers and Kurt Baker, who both last played together at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
Michael O'Connor has had little choice but to test out new blood for Australia, with four injured from the last tournament in Australia, while Portugal, Wales, Kenya, South Africa, USA, England, Scotland and Argentina also try out new young players interspersed with some former stars, Sidney Ashioya back for Kenya, John Houston for Scotland and Ollie Phillips back for England.
You get the impression that these first few tournaments are serving a dual purpose for the coaches: obviously to win Series points, but also to sort out early on who might be in contention for a run-out at the World Cup in Moscow next June.
Amazingly, just three of the 16 countries have taken the men's title in Dubai since the start of the World Series: New Zealand won the first in 1999 and have won six times, South Africa have taken three Cups and England four, including the last two. Now the field is wide open, isn't it time that Fiji, Samoa, Australia, even Argentina turned the tables? Fiji last won here in 1998...
A first for the Women's Game
For the Women it's a special occasion this weekend as they line up in a Series of their own for the first time.
It all kicks off here in Dubai alongside the men and from then on they'll be out on their own with three further events in USA (Houston), China (Guangzhou), and the Netherlands (Amsterdam), culminating with their second World Cup, back alongside the men in Russia.
And in this new era of the Women's game the talent will come to the fore, just as has begun with their male counterparts in recent years.
It won't take long for people to start talking about Canada's Mandy Marchak and Jennifer Kish, Australia's Rebecca Tavo or Emilee Cherry, Brazil's Paula Ishibashi, New Zealand's sisters Carla and Chyna Hohepa and Netherland's Annemarije van Rossum and Kelly van Harskamp, to mention a few.
Last season we had the three Challenge Cup events, with Canada winning here in Dubai and England taking the other two in Hong Kong and London, but Australia are out to win again and, ominously, New Zealand's women didn't compete at all last season while they stayed at home and built a team 'ready to compete'.
Nine countries compete in the men's and women's competitions - what price a men's and women's double for any one nation?..
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