World Cup magic lights up Dubai

(IRB.COM) Saturday 7 March 2009  
 World Cup magic lights up Dubai
History makers: By competing in the inaugural women's event, Uganda's Lady Cranes became the country's first side to compete in a World Cup event

After three breathtaking days of men's and women's international action in Dubai, the rugby world will surely now be talking about Sevens - and Wales and Australia in particular.

Beamed around the world to a record 200 countries via 27 international broadcasters, the fifth edition of the Rugby World Cup Sevens lived up to the tournament's billing as a truly global festival of rugby.

Wales beat Argentina in an unlikely final to win a first Rugby World Cup at any level and etch their name on to the Melrose Cup, while Australia overcame trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand to land a historic first ever women's trophy.

With International Olympic Committee members watching as part of the colourful crowd, the global rugby family came together in a warm embrace to put forward its best case.

"It was an absolutely outstanding tournament, both on and off the field. We saw so many upsets and so many unexpectedly good performances it was just outstandingly competitive," said Kit McConnell, Head of Rugby World Cup.

"From what we saw from both the men and the women I think it's a tournament that should stay integrated.

"There were so many good moments from both, I think we set a base for the future here.

"We had the observers from the International Olympic Committee here. They were very impressed by what they saw and I think we've got a really good case to give to the Olympic Games now."

Crowd wowed by shocks galore

There were upsets aplenty on a third and final thrilling day at 'The Sevens', none of the men's semi finalists previously having reached a Melrose Cup final.

New Zealand, South Africa, England and Fiji all fell early to underline the hyper-competitive nature of the game's abbreviated form, while in the women's game, too, favourites England succumbed to the pressures and strains of the competition.

In the men's quarter finals, Wales shocked New Zealand, Samoa edged England in sudden death extra time, Argentina battled from behind to beat South Africa by just two points and, to cap off an almost surreal hour and a half, Kenya outpaced and outbattled Fiji's heavyweights.

The Welsh had flattered to deceive in the Sevens World Series coming into the tournament but with Tom Isaacs, Tal Selley and Lee Williams in inspirational form, they rose to the occasion in front of the passionate Welsh contingent in the 35,000-strong crowd to continue on their merry winning streak and shock Samoa in another tight game to reach the Cup final - their first in the history of IRB World Sevens.

The Pumas' progression against the proud Kenyans was less of a shock given their superb form this season and recent Cup title in San Diego but in the final, the Welsh were almost error-free and were deserved 19-12 winners.

Women's celebration

The women's games provided just as compelling a case for the sport's reinclusion into the Olympics, the level of play reaching new heights in Australia's semi-final win against the lady Boks before the classic all-Oceania showdown, which finished 15-10.

Entering the tournament, England were unbeaten under coach Simon Amor but they met their match in the Wallaroos as early as the Cup quarters, before recovering to take the Plate against Canada.

While the likes of Spain, Canada, USA and New Zealand joined them in raising the bar, Brazil and China also won through against the likes of Uganda and Russia to reach the Bowl final and underline the truly global nature of the game's appeal. The Chinese triumphed to help advance the sport's nascent credentials in the minds of the world's largest population.

"I think it is a very big success for China's women's team and it is very important because rugby is not as popular as other sports such as table tennis and Olympic sports," said coach Zheng Hongjun.

"I think Rugby can become big in our country. I think Rugby Sevens should be included in the Olympics because, for us in China especially, it would encourage people to play, especially youngsters. I think parents will have seen this success and they might want their children to play rugby now, and in one or two years' time this country could become very good."

Take note rugby world. China is coming ...