Rugby Union is a wonderful game. Over the weekend over 100,000 people attended the Dubai 7s, which has to be the model for other 7s tournaments around the world.
In addition to the main event – 28 international teams competing in the opening event of the Dubai 7s world series – there were 245 invitational 7s teams and 24 netball teams competing on the eight pitches and courts that surround the main stadium and form part of the same complex.
These teams included international invitational teams featuring superstars from around the world and local Arabian Gulf tournaments involving men and women from all over the Gulf, playing in open, club, social, veteran and U19 grades.
The set-up is this: half the people are in good spirits and are enjoying themselves and having that ‘7s experience’ while the other half are equally in good spirits, playing or supporting – engrossed in their own competitive tournaments.
It was in the Arabian Gulf Social Grade that the Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors found themselves, pitched against 20 other teams. And what a weekend was had.
A bunch of blokes from all over the Gulf – a mix of largely UAE based former Oxford Blues, Abu Dhabi Harlequins, Doha, Bahrain, Dubai Hurricanes and Jebel Ali Dragons – banded together and formed a 7s team to raise money to support our mate, Mike Ballard, who suffered a serious spinal injury whilst playing rugby for the Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the West Asian Club Championship Final in 2014.
Mike has made the courageous decision to return to Abu Dhabi to live and work, taking up a place at his old school, the “New England Centre for Children with Autism”, where his teaching greatly inspired the Autistic children and their families.
And so it was that Mike arrived back in the UAE the night before the 7s, and was thrown straight into the action of the conquistadoring bunch.
Mike said afterwards:
“The 7s is the best weekend of the year in the UAE – I was stoked to be back after so long away doing my rehab – which wasn’t easy – so to be straight in the mix of so many people and supporting a number of teams – I was totally in the moment and loving it. The boys were there, were serious and wanted to do well. I was focused and busy for the full three days.”
Check out Mike’s awesome video interview with SPORT360 by clicking here.
Check out SPORT360s pre tournament article by clicking here and 7Days Sport supporting article by clicking here.
The Conquistadors got off to a rocky start, losing the opening pool game 19-10 to a former winner, Barasti, and going down 14-0 in the second match after two minutes to the AFL mob, the very competitive Dubai Dingoes. Things seemed grim with two minutes down on the clock, and being behind, but then it all started happening for the Conquistadors. The boys launched the comeback of comebacks in the mid-day heat, eventually winning 29-19. This meant that in the last pool game, the next day, a big win was needed to have the required points differential to proceed.
Lining up against the Pirates in the 5pm game on the Friday, the crowd was packed to the rafters, Nick Croker, Dave Kane, James Hamilton and the Doha veterans loudly supporting some of their former team mates. The boys played the near-perfect game – scoring 11 tries and winning 77-0. They marched on into the quarter finals.
Two hours later, on Pitch 2, playing against the Dubai Hurricanes, the atmosphere was electric.
Conquistador flying winger, Sam Priest, a former Canterbury club rugby star, and new arrival in Doha summed it up: “That Quarter Final was every rugby players dream. Playing under lights in front of a couple of thousand people, it was phenomenal.”
The Conquistadors won the Quarter final comfortably, former Hurricanes stars Andrew Powell, Conor Coakley and Sean Carey enjoying the win against their former team mates.
And then it was onto Day 3 – a semi final against the Emirates Flying Muppets. These guys were anything but Muppets, and while we pushed them, speed on the outside was too much, the Conquistadors finally going down to the eventual competition winners, three tries to one.
It’s hard to explain, but it was just so phenomenally awesome to be involved in a competitive sports tournament like this – there were 260 teams there, that’s over 3000 people, all with a similar frame of mind – all after the same thing, which was, simply put, – playing rugby, for enjoyment and to win, and having a great deal of fun whilst doing so.
Surely Dubai should be the model for other 7s tournaments around the world – the likes of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. It adds a bit more of the grassroots ‘rugby ethos’ to the ‘7s,’ and is a bit more representative of what this wonderful game is about.
And for a bunch of blokes from all over the Gulf, who came together to support Mike Ballard – old friendships were rekindled, new friendships were made, smiles were on the dials, new injuries picked up, and plans were made to get involved next year…to do something positive for Mike and charity projects further afield….and to chase that elusive Dubai 7s victory.
Awareness was also raised of Iberian discovery theory – there are now at least 12 more rugby players (and friends) who can explain the incredible Portuguese and Spanish maritime exploits in the sixteenth century – which probably included the discovery of Australia and New Zealand by the Portuguese, and which may have also included a Spanish voyage to New Zealand pre Abel-Tasman.
Many thanks again to our very kind and generous sponsors: Hill International Claims Group; King & Wood Mallesons; Alec – Building Excellence; The One Group Middle East; The Picnic Basket and B2B Fitness for their superb support.
And last but not least, many thanks to the Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors of 2015:
• Graeme Murphy. Iberian Nickname: Hernan Cortes. Nationality: Irish. Teams: Abu Dhabi Harlequins. UAE Rugby international – second most capped player.
• Phil Brady: Iberian Nickname: Afonso de Albuquerque. Nationality: Irish. Teams: Abu Dhabi Harlequins. UAE International. Manager of Abu Dhabi Harlequins A (2013).
• Conor Coakley. Iberian Nickname: Vasco de Nunez Balboa. Nationality: Irish. Teams: Doha 1st XV. Dubai Hurricanes 1st XV.
• Wade Quinn. Iberian Nickname: Wombat / De Quiros. Nationality: Australian. Teams: Doha 1st XV. Bahrain 1st XV. Qatar Rugby International.
• Winston Cowie. Iberian Nickname: Vasco De Gama. Nationality: New Zealand. Teams: Oxford University. Maulers. Doha 1st XV. 37 tries. Second highest Doha try scorer ever. Top forward try scorer.
• Brendan Rawlings. Iberian Nickname: Rapid / Andres de Urdaneta. Nationality: British. Teams: Exeter Chiefs. Dubai Hurricanes.
• Edward Lewsey. Iberian-ish Nickname: Edward Teach. Nationality: Welsh. Teams: Exeter Chiefs. Abu Dhabi Harlequins. UAE Rugby International.
• Tom Calnan. Iberian Nickname: Ferdinand Magellan. Nationality: English. Teams: Abu Dhabi Harlequins. Dual UAE international – rugby and rugby league – the eldest dual international of all time. Guiness Book of Record holder.
• Sam Priest. Iberian Nickname: Juan Sebastian El cano. Nationality: New Zealand. Teams: College Rifles. Oxford University.
• Joel Pikari. Iberian Nickname: Francisco Pizzaro. Nationality: New Zealand. Teams: Abu Dhabi Harlequins. Maulers. UAE Rugby International.
• Andy Powell. Iberian Nickname: Hernando de Soto Nationality: New Zealand. Teams: Dubai Hurricanes. Nominated for Arabian Gulf player of the season.
• Sean Carey. Iberian Nickname: Christavao Mendonca. Nationality: Irish. Teams: Dubai Hurricanes. Lansdown – National Irish Champs. Phil Cronin. Iberian Nickname: Christopher Columbus. Nationality: Irish Teams: Doha 1st XV. Jebel Ali Dragons.
• Mike Ballard: Iberian Nickname: Henry the Navigator. Nationality: USA.Teams: Abu Dhabi Harlequins. Nominated for Arabian Gulf player of the season.
The Conquistadors will be seeing you soon. #onwards
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