Feeling right at home
Ben Ryan, the England coach, says his team feel more at home in Dubai than at Twickenham, ahead of this week's Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament.
The joint IRB Sevens Series leaders reached the final here last November and are now seeking to reward their many locally-based fans by winning the coveted Melrose Cup in the emirate.
"It is definitely better than a home fixture because the sun is shining here as well and we not being rained on like at Twickenham," said Ryan, whose team arrived in Dubai this week ahead of the March 5-7 event.
"In the last round here, I couldn't believe the noise that was generated for us. It was definitely better than home, as it has been for the last few years.
"The boys are so grateful about the tremendous support we get and we want to do everything possible to repay our fans."
Since the first round of the series in Dubai, England have continued to impress, winning their first IRB Series tournament in Wellington and reaching the San Diego final earlier this month.
Now at the halfway point of the Sevens season, they have already collected 60 points – six more than they earned in 2008 – a remarkable turnaround for the team.
"Some secrets we have to keep secrets," said Ryan with a laugh. "I'm not going to tell you all the reasons [for our improvement], but where we are better off is we're very fit this season. We're using all the best advice to get the boys in the best possible shape for the World Cup.
"We have also had very few changes and have kept pretty much the same team since we beat New Zealand in London [last June].
"For the past six tournaments the main players were there and that has made a big difference.
"The rugby union and Rob Andrew [Director of Elite Rugby] have given us a lot more backing now and we have got a team that are No1 in the world [together with South Africa]."
That is not to say Ryan believes England will have it all their own way as they seek to win their second World Cup Sevens. The country won the inaugural event in 1993.
"It will be a competitive tournament and I believe there are eight teams who could win," he says. "Anything is possible because the format is such that every game is a must-win one, which means coaches will probably have to put their full-strength team out every game and that will really test how durable the players are."
Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee will also be keeping an eye on proceedings here as they ponder whether to include the sport in the Games.
Ryan adds: "I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that everyone is going to come out of this tournament with flying colours. We have to ensure the playing standards of both men and women are at an Olympic level."
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