Dubai: A carnival atmosphere will welcome the second round of the men’s HSBC Sevens World Series when it descends upon Dubai’s Sevens stadium as the feature event of the 44th annual Emirates Dubai Rugby Sevens this weekend.
Sixteen countries, split into four groups, begin battle from Friday, while the first leg of the five-stage IRB Women’s Sevens World Series kicks off on Thursday.
There will also be a record 213 teams and 3,144 players across 14 divisions and 513 social and invitational matches on the sidelines of the main event.
But it’s not just about the rugby. An expected 100,000 fans can expect three-days of fun-filled family entertainment, with improved festivities and facilities set to enhance what has long been considered the highlight of the local sports and social calendar.
Four-time Dubai winners New Zealand and England enter the men’s competition as favourites, while defending champions Samoa will be looking to retain their title.
D.J. Forbes, who captains the 11-time world series winners and current IRB Sevens World Cup holders New Zealand, hopes the All Blacks can maintain their form after getting the series off to a winning start at the Gold Coast Sevens in Australia last month. But the Kiwis haven’t won here since 2009.
“When you’re wearing the silver fern, you are expected to do well regardless of how good the competition is,” Forbes said.
“Day one will be the true test of who is going to be in the final and that’s the beauty of this sport — any team on any given day can turn up and win a tournament.
“Obviously, we are consistent and that’s where we get our rewards, but we’ve now won three on the trot,” Forbes said in reference to his team winning the last seasons’ finale in London, the World Cup in Russia and this season’s opener in Australia.
Australia captain Ed Jenkins, whose side lost 40-19 to New Zealand in the Gold Coast final, agreed form stood for nothing.
“It would be good to build upon that momentum and do the job here in Dubai, something we haven’t done in a while,” he said.
“There’s been six weeks between the Gold Coast and Dubai and that’s a long time in sevens.
“We’ve added some new faces to bolster our squad and we are probably a lot stronger than the Gold Coast but, having said that, so is everybody else.”