Under the sweltering mid-afternoon desert heat, and amid a frenzy of activity on the iconic Jumeirah Beach, Billy Dardis and Katie Fitzhenry pulled on the green jersey for what will become a treasured photo in the shadow of the Burj Al Arab.
It has been four years in the making but finally the Ireland Men’s and Women’s Sevens are standing side-by-side on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and Tuesday afternoon’s captain’s photocall was just one of a succession of epochal moments as we build towards the Dubai Sevens.
Joined by the rest of the core nations on both World Series, Ireland Men’s captain Dardis and Ireland Women’s co-captain Fitzhenry were on duty for the start of the official duties of the week ahead of Thursday’s kick-off at The Sevens Stadium and the pair were in high demand from local and travelling media.
Fitzhenry is leading the Ireland Women’s side alongside Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe for the second leg of their 2019/20 campaign in the absence of skipper Lucy Mulhall and the 24-times capped forward says the players are now relishing the opportunity to get back on the pitch.
After starting the week with a gym work-out, Stan McDowell‘s side were on the training paddock at The Sevens Stadium on Tuesday and will then finalise their preparations for Thursday’s Pool B opener against Spain (2.50pm local time, 10.50am Irish time) in tomorrow’s captain’s run.
Hoping to build on their eighth-place finish in the season opener in Glendale in October, Ireland will then face Australia and Fiji in further pool outings on Friday.
“There’s great excitement in camp,” Fitzhenry told IrishRugby.ie. “There has obviously been a long break between Glendale and Dubai so we’ve had a good build-up and prep. We’re just ready to get started now on Thursday.
“We arrived in quite late Sunday night and we just had a gym session yesterday to get the bodies moving and obviously get a bit of exercise done in the heat and then we had our first pitch session the morning. It went well but sure pitch sessions are never perfect but we did really well this morning and hopefully we can build on it again for the captain’s run tomorrow.”
Dubai is the first of six combined legs on this year’s World Series and with two Ireland Development teams arriving on Tuesday to compete in the Invitational Tournament, it is a hugely busy and exciting week for Irish Sevens rugby.
“Dubai is always great for us as we’ve got a really good fan base here and we’ve obviously got four teams playing here with the Men for the first time on the World Series as well, which is great,” Fitzhenry added.
“I can imagine there will be quite a lot of support and we’re really excited to get that first game under our belt and run out into the stadium.”
Making their debut appearance as a core team, Ireland Men face USA in their opening fixture on Thursday evening (6.12pm local time, 2.12pm Irish time) and after a long pre-season block, the players are now chomping at the bit to get their season underway.
“It has been building all the way up the last few years, the last few months, and we’ve had a 13-14 week pre-season which has been really hard and we’re just dying to get out onto the pitch now and stuck into USA,” Dardis said.
It is brilliant for us as a group and Irish rugby in general that two Irish teams are on the World Series and can perform on the world stage. We just can’t wait to get stuck into USA on Thursday night.
With Scotland and Australia also in Ireland’s group, Dardis and his team-mates are under no illusions of the size of the task ahead as they bid to make an instant impression on the big stage, having enjoyed four previous appearances as an invitational outfit.
“It’s a different story when you’re a core side,” he adds. “We kind of have a target on our backs now going into the tournament. We’ve had some good performances so teams are aware of what we’re able to do.
“It’s going to be a big challenge this weekend. We’ve got three hard teams coming up in USA, Australia and Scotland so it will be hard going but we’re really excited for the whole challenge.”