My week in the sandpit

T Minus 2 days
Warren Quennell, Richard Gordon (who was there by invitation), and myself headed off to Dubai on Sunday the 27th of November. Flying in the evening from Welly to Canberra on the new Singapore airlines route. It was a quick fuel stop in Canberra where we were able to disembark and stretch our legs before next leg to Singapore.

Landing in Singapore at 5am in the morning, I was half asleep, my body clock had no idea what time it was. If you haven’t experienced Singapore airport before, it is a major transit hub for flights from all around the world. Like a small city that never sleeps full of 1000’s of people 24/7. We had 9 hours to kill so we decided to do the free city highlights tour on offer from Singapore airlines.

Leaving the comfort of air con. It’s the humidity that smacks you in the face. At 8am in the morning it’s 28 degrees and the humidity is 75% yuck!

The free tour was 2.5 hours long and we were shown all the sights of Singapore like the Marina Bay Sands (boat hotel), the F1 track, and Merlion Park on the waterfront and the hanging gardens and some temples. After the tour we were dropped off at the airport where Q and I headed up to the swimming pool at terminal 1 to kill a bit more time before our final leg onto Dubai.

T Minus 1 Day
The final leg was 8 hours, landing in Dubai on Monday evening. We literally walked through customs, bought our duty free and were collected from the airport and dropped off at our accommodation for the tournament, the Silicon Oasis Premier Inn. After checking in we dropped our bags and headed down to the hotel bar where we started to meet referees from all over the world. Before leaving the bar Richo and I decided that it’d be best to get up early. Either go to the gym or go for a run to get our bodies used to the new time zone and heat. I headed off to my room, but my roommate wasn’t due in until tomorrow morning. I was asleep in no time.

Tuesday Free Time
6.30am and I am up and out for a run. It was such a great idea last night. But after running for about 10 mins in 27 degrees (no humidity in the desert) my body began to reject the exercise. I powered through and finished off my run then went to the gym where I ran into Richo. Down at breakfast we started to mix and mingle with refs from all over the world. Everyone was excited as we began to swap war stories. Today was a free day so I headed off to town with refs from South Africa and Australia. Some went to the water parks and some went off to the beach.

I am glad that I took the time to explore the Dubai Mall. The Burj Khalifa however I was not prepared for. I spent nearly 2.5 hours at the top 145 stories high. It is certainly an experience I will never forget! The surrounding area with the fountains is surreal. And 10km away the city of gold is exactly that. 10 city blocks big where every single store is either a jewellery store, a restaurant or hotel. I wondered if there was really a market for that much gold? Absolutely, it was like busy, liken it to being in Queensgate on a Saturday. The only difference is you have security guards, armoured vehicles and more Aston Martins than you’d find in England.

Early afternoon I arrive back at the hotel still buzzing from what I’d just seen. I go and collect my kit. It’s like bloody Xmas! I take my kit up to my room and I finally meet my roommate. Paul from Bristol. A bro from Fiji serving in the English army. A few beers later and we have so much in common I couldn’t have been given a better roommate.

Wednesday Orientation and Fitness sessions
6.30am and I am up and off to the gym. It’s about 27 degrees again, the body is still confused and doesn’t want to do a work out. I get to the gym and that is when I run into some of the netball umpires. After all this is an invitational 7’s and netball tournament. So what better way to network than help a few girls with their technique. After a swim I head down to breakfast where the restaurant is alive. There are a lot more refs here today from all corners of the globe, America, Canada, Namibia etc. After breakfast those of us who are here for the first time pile into coaches and we are off to the venue for orientation.

20 minutes later right in the middle of nowhere, we arrive at the venue. You’d think it was an oasis it’s that isolated. We get off the shuttles and move through security. The setup is mind blowing, there are 9 immaculately manicured grassy fields including no 1. Which on TV looks like a stadium, but it is all made of scaffolding. Simply amazing! There’s a swimming pool and a very well stocked referees tent, HQ, home for the rugby referees and netball umpires for the tournament. We spend a few hours at the venue getting orientated and spend a lot of time getting to know each other.

After lunch we head out to GEMS Wellington School where the first part of the afternoon is spent in the classroom. Afterwards everyone is put into their group of 3. This is the group you will be with for day 1 of the tournament. We are all taken outside where we conduct fitness and mental activities. All of which are designed to help us get used to working together as a team of 3. There is a big emphasis on working as a team and not an individual at this tournament. In my group I am lucky enough to have my roommate Paul and our skipper is the beautiful Canadian Rose.

We complete our day with a dinner cruise down the river and joining us are the rock stars, the World Series men’s and women’s refs. Everyone is buzzing and we officially welcome home our Rio Olympic champions. I was amazed to hear that every single one of them had previously been to this tournament. We spent about 3 hours together before heading back to our hotel.

Thursday Game Day 1
6.30am and I am up. My group of three are on the late shift with our games starting at 10am, and the first groups start at 8.40am. So I head up for a swim before going down to breakfast. The atmosphere has changed, some are quiet and mentally preparing, others are packing and re-packing, whereas others like me are chilled and carry on networking. No matter what shift you are in, everyone heads to the ground at 7.30am. On our way out to the ground we find out that Paul has left his credentials at the hotel. A big No No as security is very tight. We arrive at the ground and it is busy, teams are warming up on all fields and the place is starting to fill up. Meanwhile Paul has to remain at the gate until some temp credentials can be made up and half an hour later Paul finally gets in. Although the girls aren’t umpiring until tomorrow they have joined us. The women’s world series begins today so we all hang out together and we go to watch some games.

At the tournament you stay with your team of 3 for the day and you are allocated a coach, we had Tony from Bristol. You will ref 1 game and then run the line twice. Finished off with a team debrief back at HQ with your coach. You repeat this pattern for the whole day.

10am and we’re finally out on the field. The mercury has climbed up to mid-30’s and that is where it stays until sunset. Rose is up first, followed by Paul then me. By the time I am on, although I am fully hydrated I begin to struggle with the heat. After running the line twice I’m feeling fatigue from the heat. But thankfully as the day carries on I get use to the heat and surprise myself with how well I handle my games in the evening. My final game was at 8.40pm and it was the fastest. A gulf open U19 fixture with open running rugby. By the end of day one we have refereed 6 games each and AR’d 12. Ice baths become my best friend. At the end of day get together I was named as a team captain for day 2. We ended the day with a few well deserved drinks, arriving back at the hotel around 11.30pm

Friday Game Day 2
6.30am and I am up, the body’s feeling a bit sore so I jump into the spa bath before heading down to breakfast. Once again no matter what shift you are on, we all head out to out to the venue at 7.30am together. This time I make doubly sure that Paul has his credentials. The men’s world series starts today along with the netball, the women’s world series finished, and to top it off, it’s also a public holiday. So today would be the busiest day with over 80,000 people passing through the gates.

We get to the ground early as it is photo day. So we all assemble beside the no 1 field to get team photos and one big tournament photo. Following this we headed back to HQ for a debrief. And here we are told that the selectors will be out and about today considering refs for tomorrows 8 final’s appointments. So it was time to make a statement. I meet my new team and new coach. My team are Liu from China and Roger from the UAE both of which spoke little English and our coach is Q. But he ends up swapping with someone other coaches. Rugby is universal and we begin to gel for the first two games. And then it went pear shaped. Roger who lived locally decided after his second game that he’d had enough and couldn’t be bothered anymore. So he went home leaving our team a man short for rest of the day. I ran back to the tent to inform the admin team. They were bloody brilliant. With little fuss they arranged some replacements for the rest of the day.

Late in the afternoon my team had a 2 hour break before our evening games so I went off to physio to get some niggles sorted before taking in some of the netball. I’m damn lucky I visited the physio as my last two games were the fastest. At the completion of my last game at 9.20pm, I arrived back at HQ to find out that the Black Ferns had beaten Australia in the final. The women’s world series was done so the women refs joined us. Looking around the tent there were many broken and tired people. All had done another 6 games, AR’d 12, whereas lucky me and a few others had backed up doing extra games. I did Rogers last two. So we enjoyed a few drinks and farewelled the women’s world series refs, arriving back at the hotel around 12am.

Saturday Finals Day 3
6.30am and I am up. I am no longer jet lagged but the body feels broken. So I head to the spa before going down to breakfast. This time the spa is busy. Down at breakfast it looks like last man standing with a lot of broken and sore people. But anticipation is high with people wondering if they’d done enough to get a final. We arrive at the venue, where once again I am appointed as team captain. Today my team is Monrad from SA and Nick from Oz, no coaches are appointed and everyone has been given two games to start with. The rest of the fixtures we will find out later that morning. So with a late start for the last day we had plenty of time to chill out. I head off to the physio while others go off to watch the men’s world series and the netball. We complete our two games and head back to the tent where I find out that we have another 4 games each where one of them is a final, and I have been appointed to ref it. The others in my team missed out. But still high 5’s all around HQ.

It’s the Gulf Vets Final at 1.20pm on field 2. Field 2 is buzzing for the finals, with a commentator during the game. My final is a tight affair between local club Hurricanes v Al Ammain, it finishes at 25-12 Hurricanes win and I’ve issued 4 yellow cards. So I have a bit of paperwork to do. By the time the last game rolls around my team are hardly walking. But when I find out it is an open U19 boys game, I want to finish strong so pushed through the pain barrier and finished on a high. No cards or send offs. I’m very impressed with myself as I kept my standards up right to the 14th minute. So after 3 huge days almost covering 100kms my job was now done and now it was time to relax and enjoy the world series finals.

After a long ice bath and some dinner Paul and I join most of the others refs and netball umpires are off their feet in the stadium. At the conclusion of the final we all meet back at HQ for finals presentations and then drinks with the netball umpires and world series refs. Everyone is sore and tired and it’s only adrenalin getting us all through the last night. I lead the Kiwis in a haka to our new friends. It’s a great way to sign off back at the hotel. Paul and the Bristol boys are on a 7am flight so there is no point in sleeping, so out comes the duty free.

I remain in Dubai for another two days of RnR with a mate.

This tournament has been a wonderful experience. I have learnt so much about the world of 7’s and met many good friends. I would like to once again thank the association for sending me. And also a big thank you to Stan and his army of volunteers. I have no doubt that this will not be the last time I attend this tournament.