Stage set for Dubai 7s
December 2, 2003

The fifth International Rugby Board Sevens season is set for a glittering launch in the Middle East this weekend when 16 of the world's top rugby nations battle for supremacy at the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby 7s.

All the main ingredients have now been added for a successful tournament and the finishing touches are being made to the record 20,000-seater stadium that has been specially constructed at the Dubai Exiles Rugby Club on the outskirts of the city.

World Champions New Zealand have arrived in Dubai searching for their fifth successive Emirates International Trophy, but their dominance faces its biggest test yet with England selected by the IRB as the tournament top seeds in recognition of their Series victories in Hong Kong, Brisbane and London last season.

South Africa, Fiji, Samoa, Australia and Argentina are all capable of launching their seasons with the silverware this weekend.

"We are in for a weekend to remember," said Gary Chapman, President Associated Companies, Emirates Group. "It's a big honour to be selected once again as the city to launch the IRB Sevens season and we will endeavour to ensure Dubai continues to set the standards for the other rounds to follow."

The three-day event kicks off on Wednesday with a host of action from the various invitational, social, Gulf, veterans, ladies and youth competitions which have been the backbone of the event since its humble inception in 1969. The matches will provide an ideal taster for what is to come the following day, when the world's biggest rugby nations from six continents begin their quest for one of the game's most sought after prizes.

While England's success at the World Cup in Australia will undoubtedly be a boost for the 7s side, which features British Lion Phil Greening amongst its ranks, New Zealand have traveled with one of the best 7s sides ever assembled.

But South Africa coach Chester Williams has warned the big two not to be complacent and is confident that his side can not only win the Emirates International Trophy, but is also capable of going on to win the IRB Sevens series as a whole.

"We are tired of just competing and intend to be the form team for the next series. In the first year as coach my main objective was to get amongst the top three 7s teams in the world.

"Last year I wanted to start winning tournaments and for the coming series, we want to challenge New Zealand as champions," said Williams, who won the Rugby World Cup with South Africa in 1995."

He is glad to be back to Dubai. "Everything here makes for a great tournament. The players are well looked after and entertained, the crowds are fantastic and the atmosphere is something special. It really has become a premier event.

"We haven't won that one so will be looking to do so. A good start is crucial and we have traveled to Dubai with that in mind."

The Arabian Gulf, who warmed up with a tournament in Thailand over the last weekend, take their place in the main draw for the fourth time, while Zambia and Uganda make their Dubai debuts.

Action will continue throughout the weekend, climaxing in the grand final on the main pitch at 8.15pm on Friday. This will be followed by the annual Rugby Rock, which this year features 70's rock icon Suzi Quatro.

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