For a fortunate few rugby players across the world, the sun-seeking World Rugby Sevens season kicks off today. Fifteen core teams will once again compete in more than ten international tournaments, culminating in Paris in June.
As months of gruelling pre-season training draw to a close, the eyes of sevens rugby playing nations turn to Dubai. There is nothing like a lengthy off-season to build anticipation.
Dubai is one of the more surreal tournaments on the World Series. With an ever-growing skyline pushing up out of the desert, artificial islands and even helicopters available on Uber, the extreme luxury of the place is hard to miss.
The exuberance of Dubai carries over to the Sevens event itself. South-east of the city, surrounded by miles of desert, a multitude of pitches host varying levels of invitational tournaments across rugby and netball.
Surrounding this are partying fans, making their way between “fan villages” and events. The excitement and buzz of the place is palpable.
Pre-season has been long and hard for all teams. For us, there is an exciting new feel to the squad with a new head coach, John Dalziel, who has taken over from Calum MacRae, and a new conditioning coach, Derick Speirs.
Derick has made an immediate impact, with the team running punishing, rugby-specific, fitness sessions, alongside early-morning sessions in the “heat chamber”. Just imagine moving a bike machine into a sauna and cycling as hard as you can for 50 minutes!
John, who won the Melrose Sevens twice as a player, has brought a wealth of specialist knowledge with him and applied it to our contact work and set piece. Evidence of this was apparent in our pre-season tournament in South Africa, in which we reached the final, only losing out to our hosts.
This tournament at Stellenbosch University was a good opportunity for a number of new players in the squad to impress, especially in the final against a strong and experienced World Series-winning Blitzboks side.
Sevens tournaments can be a hard place for a new player. Living out of a bag, getting to grips with daily routines, new players, new calls, new coaches and all in a different country. However, as a tight-knit squad of 12, I have always admired how accommodating the Sevens environment is. The new players have arrived, fitted in, and above all, are performing well.
We go into the Dubai tournament, for the second year running, as the previous tournament’s cup holders after ending last season with a retention of our London title at Twickenham.
Those victories last spring, over New Zealand, a first ever for any Scottish team, the USA, and, finally, England, beating them in their own backyard, still sit fresh in our memories.
Days like this are what drive us as a team. In our group, we match up against France, Spain and England. We learned at Twickenham last year that tournaments are not won in the group stages. However, a strong start to the tournament, and indeed the season, will put us in good stead.
In France and Spain, we know to expect two sides full of attacking flair, offloads and footwork. In the England game, we know that the vast numbers of ex-pat supporters will create an amazing atmosphere in that evening game.
With new players, new coaches and a new season, that includes both a Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast and a Sevens World Cup in San Francisco, 2017-2018 promises an exciting time ahead for the Scotland Sevens team.