Richie Pugh: Inside Wales Sevens: Business Class flights, Water-Parks and winning the Plate in Dubai

Richie Pugh: Inside Wales Sevens: Business Class flights, Water-Parks and winning the Plate in Dubai

The 2012/13 HSBC world sevens series is 3 tournaments in and already there has been a mass of entertainment with huge hits, speed and plenty of shock results. In my 7 years playing on the circuit I have never come across a more competitive start to a series. With the introduction of 15 core teams, you only have to take a glimpse at the current standings to see that there are no easy games anymore with every team having the ability to beat one another. For Wales it was a hugely disappointing start to the campaign with us going down in the bowl competition in the Gold Coast, so our build up to Dubai and Port Elizabeth needed to be spot on for us to achieve more come competition time.

The 2012/13 HSBC world sevens series is 3 tournaments in and already there has been a mass of entertainment with huge hits, speed and plenty of shock results. In my 7 years playing on the circuit I have never come across a more competitive start to a series. With the introduction of 15 core teams, you only have to take a glimpse at the current standings to see that there are no easy games anymore with every team having the ability to beat one another.

For Wales it was a hugely disappointing start to the campaign with us going down in the bowl competition in the Gold Coast, so our build up to Dubai and Port Elizabeth needed to be spot on for us to achieve more come competition time.

It definitely didn’t disappoint; training had more than stepped up a notch. We had always been used to gruelling fitness sessions and intense rugby sessions but the coaches really wanted to increase the competition with one another giving each session a real edge and purpose. The boys responded well to this and I would have thought it was one of the hardest selection meetings our coaches have ever had. I was obviously hugely pleased to be picked in the final 12 but knew that’s when the hard work starts as we head out to the desert and put right what didn’t go well for us in Oz.

It was nice to finally arrive in Dubai and in the sun, for 9 players looking rather tired and worse for wear I was rather refreshed and energised after luckily drawing a business class upgrade out of the hat along with Lee Williams and Rhys Jones, so with a nice filet steak and mixed grill breakfast down me I was looking forward to getting straight into it and acclimatising to the heat. It was also the return to a place that holds great memories for myself and Lee as it was the setting for what is my most memorable rugby experience in helping Wales win the Sevens World Cup back in 2009.

Onto the training and one of the toughest challenges that meets you is getting your body used to the dry desert heat and slight shift in body clock so a blow out in the gym and a skills session is key in getting your body up to speed as quick as possible.

The hardest session of the week came in the form of the Australian team as we took them on in 3 halves of sevens. You can really see what level you are at, as it’s the first time in about 6 weeks that we faced different opposition and after a good session, confidence was high and it was important now to take that into the weekend, as the rest of the week is spent doing low key team run sessions.

Away from training mainly involved lounging in the hotels pool or shopping in the local Karama market where boys try to haggle down locals for fake headphones, watches and bracelets. The worst culprit is our team manager, Dai Jenkins who has been known to pack extra luggage bags just to fill up with his Christmas shopping. His wife must have the biggest fake bag collection!!!

There was also a day out to the Atlantis waterpark on the Jumeirah palm. But this almost back fired on the squad as the slides took victims in myself and James “cubby” Davies, wiping us off our rubber ring and smashing heads on the way down. Luckily we had enough time to recover before the action started although cubby did have a massive lump growing from the side of his head.

With all the preparation done, all that was left was for the traditional hotel room jersey presentation from team manager Dai Jenks (informing us it was his 72 presentation he’s done, that’s a lot of air miles) it’s always special receiving your jersey but it was extra special for 3 members; Alex Webber, Jason Harries and Cory Allen who had all been selected for the first time to represent Wales 7s.

Day 1 at The Sevens and a storm was brewing, literally as thunder hit the 40000 crowd in 30’ heat, not your usual sevens weather but it wasn’t enough to stop the action on the pitch and the party in the huge scaffolding stands. It was a tough opening day but one that we came through well, missing out first up against New Zealand but turning it round against Argentina and Russia to put us in the top 8 cup competition and in a good place.

Back to the hotel and it’s about trying to refuel your body again at the restaurant as all 16 teams return all showing mixed emotions from the days events as they get set to get head down for day 2, business day.

Quarterfinal time and we meet Samoa, but it didn’t quiet happen for us as Samoa took a first half 2 try lead and leaving us too much to chase. So Cup Semi-finals was just out of our grasp but we had to quickly refocus and pick ourselves up to get the next best thing and that was winning the Plate competition.

No easy task as we drew Gold Coast Champs Fiji, but the boys dug deep to put our best performance in winning 27-5 with Rhys Jones grabbing a first half hat trick with a total length of 9 meters. Canada next and we knew it was a big one, the North Americans were on form but for the 6th time in two days the boys put all the hard work to good use and came out winners and a vital 13 points in the bag.

It was great to come away from the tournament with some silverware, but unfortunately it wasn’t time to hit the beach and party as many do in Dubai at Barasti. It was time to hit the bed and strap into the Gameready (high pressured ice machine) and rest up before the 12 hours of travel the next day flying to South Africa.