We landed in Dubai bright and early around seven am and of course the first thing anyone really wanted to do was hit the hay and catch some zzzz. However, no rest for the wicked and to try and avoid any jet lag we were instructed to stay awake all day, this proved rather difficult, especially for one Michael Fedo who was found later that morning by roommate James Eddie fast asleep.
We got through customs and awaiting us was a lovely surprise for Sam Hidalgo-Clyne as his long lost brother would be our bus driver for the week. We piled the bags on and headed for the hotel for a spot of breakfast. The food in Dubai is notoriously good and the first breakfast certainly did not disappoint, trays of pastries, freshly squeezed juice and a brilliant omelette station, were just a few of the delicacies on display. The temptation got the better of some of our party as pastries were disappearing at the blink of an eye, thus leading skipper Budgie to make an educated decision to enforce a pastry free week until the tournament was over. The rest of the day was spent recovering from the journey with a spin bike session, stretching and analysis of our performances from the weekend. That night we could not get to bed soon enough with most lads turning in shortly after dinner around 8pm.
The next couple of days we got back into training and worked hard on our defence. It was clear from analysis that we were making a lot of poor decisions at the breakdown leaving us men down and under pressure. Sheesh [head coach Graham Shiel] drilled us hard on making accurate decisions and we practised leaving the ball and getting our width allowing us to be more aggressive off the line and put our opponents under more pressure. Every session was done in the baking heat so it was a relief to dive in the pool, cool off and go through our recovery. This was often followed by a game of kerby across the pool due to James Fleming getting it on his first attempt and the rest of the lads refusing to let him have the bragging rights. Training was pretty sharp and it was nice to have nearly everyone participating having shaken off niggles, knocks and bangs from the weekend. One near casualty was poor Mark Cairns who had joined us as a replacement for Struan Dewar (hamstring). His first session in with the boys and he decided to try and headbutt Fedo’s elbow while dummy jumping at a restart. 13 stitches later and all was well, if anything the new look went well with the broken nose and lost teeth poor Cairnsy has acquired over the years. One very hardy man. The only thing he was bothered about was the fact that he was not allowed to do a full training session the next day.
As before,the end of the week approached at a rate of knots and Thursday evening was upon us once again. The team meeting that night was spot on, we watched a video compilation of training, highlights from games and some funny bits and pieces picked up on the flip cameras put together by our fantastic video geek Ciaran Beattie. Sheesh then went over our game plans and what he expected from each and every one of us. We were all aiming for a cup quarter and three good performances on day one. Like I said last week, it was a tough group that was going to be ruthless. Any one of the four teams was capable of beating any of the others and we would have to be mentally prepared from the off if we were to stand a chance of progressing. We were physically ready and there was a confidence within the group, we had shown last week we can score tries when we get ball but we had also worked hard on our D and things were looking good for the morning. All that was left was a squirt of cherry active to help us sleep, a brush of the tusks and hit the hay.
The disappointment of the 6am alarm quickly disappears as the realisation that it is tournament day dawns. Due to the extensive invitational competition running alongside the IRB sevens at Dubai our opening game is at a punchy 9:20am. The morning follows the usual routine: weigh-in, complete daily monitoring forms, morning activity (to wake us up) and then breakfast. Due to the lengthy journey out to the sevens stadium (around 45 minutes from the hotel) we are on our way at 7am. The bus is quiet with nervous anticipation, while the physio uses the time to strap a few shoulders in preparation for our game against Wales.
When you first arrive at the stadium you realise how impressive the Dubai Sevens is. Firstly you have to go through airport style security, although you are allowed to carry liquid and it doesn’t have to be in a clear resealable bag. Then you walk past the multitude of back pitches (beginning to fill with invitational teams), coffee stalls, bars, a crèche and various other entertainment stands, the adrenalin starts to flow. Under the main stand we settle in to our changing room urging time to pass and for the games to begin. This weekend we are sharing with Fiji. There are not many stadiums that have 16 different changing rooms so sharing with a team is part and parcel of the series.
Fiji have yet to arrive when we head out for our warm up at 9am. Most of the crowd are also still in their beds, however the warm up is smooth and the preparation is complete. Returning to the changing room to put our strips on, the last final words on how we are to beat Wales are said. And then we are in the tunnel, lined up against the opposition waiting. And waiting. It’s only 30 seconds or so but it takes an eternity. “Teams out you go.” Unsurprisingly, that’s our cue.
The game starts and immediately we have to weather a period of Welsh pressure. Some great defence and we work our way out and have a line-out on our own 10m line. A throw, a leap, three accurate passes and the ball is in the hands of Andrew Turnbull. A Welsh defender has overchased ever so slightlybut that’s all he needs. Turny seizes the opportunity and tears through the defence. Seconds later he’s touching the ball down and we are in the lead. It stays this way until half-time. Everybody is comfortable as we take on some water and talk about a good half but the game is nowhere near finished. “More of the same, please” is the message.
Unfortunately we struggle to win possession of the ball throughout the second half and, as we head in to the last minute, we are neck and neck at 7-7. On several occasions we are close to winning the ball back to launch a final attack but somehow Wales keep it. And then it happens. We get a little bit out of shape in defence and they are over the whitewash. A glance at the clock shows 38 seconds left. You are entitled to 40 seconds to take the conversion. Game over. Unbelievable. For the second week in a row Wales have beaten us with the last play of the game.
There’s no time to dwell on the heartbreak. In three and half hours we are back on the pitch. So we have to be efficient in completing our recovery. This consists of a warm-down then back to the changing room to weigh-in, an ice bath and refuelling. Weighing in before and after games is important to measure fluid loss. Changing room refuelling involves carb-protein drinks, protein bars and other supplements. The quicker you can refuel the better, especially when you are playing again in a couple of hours.
More substantial refuelling is then undertaken with a light meal. Whilst eating we watch our game and look at our next opponents. And then the pre-game process begins again. Australia are next and we know that if we want to reach the cup quarter finals we must win. At half-time we are still in it. But with a couple of minutes remaining we find ourselves 17-7 down. But we score and it’s 17-12 and we are back in it. However that’s as close as we get. Australia score with the final play to take it 24-12 and we are consigned to the bowl competition.
There are plenty of positives from our first two performances and we know we have to build on them in our final group game against Pan-American Games champions Canada. A win here and we play the UAE first on day 2. A loss and we could be up against Samoa. As the game kicks-off Turny begins his destruction of North America. Canada cannot cope with him and his hat-trick gives us a hard-fought 19-14 victory. We are also grateful to an incredible last ditch tackle by Scott Riddell to keep Canada from snatching a victory. The win came at a price though as Michael Fedo was stretchered from the pitch with a leg injury.
Our early first game meant we were finished by late afternoon. However, before we return to the hotel for a pool session and dinner, we have the parade to complete. Dubai Sevens after sundown is a completely different place. And during our last game recovery the sun has set. Returning to the pitch for the parade, the crowd are in full party mood and the atmosphere is bouncing. After a lap of the pitch waving to the crowd you realise the evening games are when you want to play at Dubai. Could we reach the bowl final tomorrow and achieve this dream?
7am and the alarm goes. A few stiff bodies but some stretching, activation and a pool session, for the really stiff, and we are ready to go again. The first game of day two can be tricky to properly warm up for but we felt ready to go as we lined up in the tunnel against the UAE. However, despite an heroic effort to overcome his injury from the previous game, we had lost the services of Fedo. It was nice to see former Glasgow Hawks and Heriots fly-half, Murray Strang, lining up for them. It wasn’t so good to see him weave through our defence for a fine individual score. Fortunately it didn’t prove too costly and we were through to the bowl semi-final.
A tougher encounter against Portugal awaited us. Kick-off saw the sun at its highest, baking those in the Dubai desert. A fine first-half performance saw us 19-0 up at half-time courtesy of Peter Horne, Mark Cairns and Turny. Our dominance was complete as we controlled possession; created, and took, try-scoring opportunities; and snuffed out any Portuguese attack. However we were proving to be a team of one half, and with two minutes left to play we were clinging to a 19-17 lead. Some smart tactical decisions and measured slowing of the game allowed us to hold on to our advantage as the full-time hooter sounded.
Somewhat surprisingly the USA were to be our final opponents. Samoa had fallen to Canada in the bowl quarters. Yet the Canadians couldn’t maintain their performance and had lost out to the USA. Prior to the final we had a break long enough to allow us to experience some of the invitational games. First of all we went to cheer the Xodus Steelers in the geriatrics’ 10 a-side final. Unfortunately, Duncan Hodge, Gregor Townsend, Derrick Lee and Craig Joiner amongst others couldn’t inspire them to victory. Not all that surprising when their opponents had Trevor Leota, Chris Sheasby, Appolo Perelini and Henry Paul on their teamsheet. Next we cheered on the HFW Wailers (an invitational team Fedo and Riddell have frequently played for). Unfortunately they also lost their final. The omens were not looking good.
As we went out to warm-up for our final the sun had disappeared and everybody received a lift from the crowd. Wherever Scotland play the support we receive is incredible. Dubai is no exception. The number of saltires waving, painted faces and Scottish accents in the crowd was incredible. The noise generated was amazing as we took to the pitch for our final stand. Fortunately we had Turny in our ranks. And his campaign to destroy North American rugby continued with another hat-trick. One involved barrelling through two attempted tacklers, another involved scorching through the middle of their tattered defence. Colin Gregor hammered the final nail in the coffin with Scotland’s last try.
The lap of honour was considerably more enjoyable than the previous week with the bowl to show off. And it was a great way to thank all the Scots who were cheering us so vociferously.
The icing on the cake for the tournament was the individual award Turny received. An incredible ten tries saw him named tournament top scorer. And during the competition he surpassed 100World Series tries for Scotlandin addition to his numerous dots in Sevens Rugby World Cup and Commonwealth Games. This is a phenomenal achievement and one that is unlikely to be matched for many a year.
After such a demanding tournament the last thing you want is to be up at 6am for a 15 hour travel day to Port Elizabeth, South Africa. But that’s what the world of international Sevens involves…
Additional reporting by Colin Gregor