THE North East’s top sevens talent are escaping the floods for the heat of the United Arab Emirates, with the HFW Wailers among the star turns in this week’s Dubai Invitational Sevens.
Last year’s beaten finalists have teamed up with Samurai International to form a power-packed team, with Tynedale pair Hamish Smales and Ben Frankland joined by ex-Newcastle Falcons man Jeremy Manning and a host of international stars.
New Zealand international Jack Wilson captains the Wailers in a tournament which runs parallel to the International Rugby Board Sevens event, with the final being played on the main pitch in front of an anticipated 40,000 supporters.
“It is a group stage to start with, and then it goes to knock-outs for the quarters, semis and final,” said Andy Howells, the Westoe director of rugby who founded the Wailers in 2005 and has been the driving force behind their rise in the abbreviated code. “We have made the Dubai final twice in the past, including last year where we were narrowly beaten 24-21 by the South African national second-team, but we would expect to be among the competing teams this time round with the quality of squad we have assembled.
“Some of the lads who are playing for us will be playing in the IRB Sevens in South Africa next week, and that is the level of player we are talking about.”
As well as guest skipper Wilson the Wailers have also drafted in vastly-experienced South African international Fabien Juries, Welsh caps Iolo Evans, Sam Cross, Chris Banfield and Luke Treharne, Scotland’s Darren Gillespie and Liam Draycott plus England’s Jack Walsh.
“Ourselves and the Samurai have got together for this tournament, and traditionally we have been two of the strongest teams on the invitational sevens circuit,” explained Howells. “They have helped us with player recruitment, they are sponsoring the kit and it just made sense for this week.
“Our first game on Friday morning is against what is effectively England’s second-team, the Royals, and before that we have a training match against Mike Friday’s full Kenya side tomorrow.
“South Africa, France and Australia all have their B-teams there for the tournament too, and the Belgian national side are another rising force in the game who will provide good opposition.”
With Dubai among the most prestigious stop-offs on the international circuit, Howells added: “Sevens rugby is massive at the moment, especially with the Olympic involvement in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. We have just got to go out to Dubai and give it our best, and hopefully this could be our year. It is hard to win games in Dubai because all the best teams are there and the weather is very oppressive for sevens, but it is a big stage and a great chance for us.”
Keen to maintain a local angle to a Wailers team increasingly attracting top-level recruits from around the globe, Howells added: “Hamish and Ben are in from Tynedale, and then I guess Jeremy could technically count as a local after the time he had at Newcastle Falcons!
“The Wailers was always intended as a way for North East players to get a chance on the sevens scene, and it is important that we still stay true to that where possible, but the lads are still quality.
“Hamish is an England Sevens international after playing in the FIRA European Championships. Ben played for Samurai in the Safari Sevens in Kenya and did very well over there, and likewise for London Welsh in the Premiership Sevens at the start of the English season.”
Darlington Mowden Park’s sevens team, the Newitt’s Centurions, will also be competing after a successful summer on the Rugby Rocks circuit, while Mowden pair Ruth Laybourn and Georgina Roberts are in the England squad for the inaugural IRB Women’s Sevens World Series.