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Speranza 22 side will celebrate Marco Speranza at Dubai Rugby Sevens

The Speranza 22 team was set up for the Dubai Sevens to celebrate the life of Marco Speranza, a former Abu Dhabi Harlequins player, who died in an aircraft crash in his native Argentina in February, writes Paul Radley.

Marco Speranza, second from right, died earlier this year in an aircraft crash, and his former Abu Dhabi Harlequins teammates have formed on Speranza 22 to honour him. Photo courtesy Rory Greene

By the end of the weekend, the ploy is likely to have become so telegraphed opposition defences will see it coming a mile off.

They need to know, though, the players of Speranza 22 are not trying the elaborate dummy-kick-sidestep manoeuvre in order to showboat. Nor do they necessarily regard it as the best possible route to the try line.

Rather, they are doing it in tribute to one of their dear friends, who passed away earlier this year.

The Speranza 22 team was set up to celebrate the life of Marco Speranza, a former Abu Dhabi Harlequins player who died in an aircraft crash in his native Argentina in February.

To all intents and purposes the side is a reunion party from the Harlequins side which won the Gulf Under 18 title at the 2009 Sevens.

Eleven members of that team are returning this weekend, from various points of the globe including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States.

And each of them has to attempt the trademark move of the absent 12th at least once during the course of their International Open campaign.

“There is a special move that Marco always used to do on the pitch, his famous dummy-kick,” said Jono Burkmar-Cullen, one of just two players from the class of 2009 who is based in the UAE.

“He would always go as if to kick, then step the player and he was away and in for the try every time.

“I think we are going to try to make sure that each one of the boys does it at least one time this weekend.”

As is often the way with reunions, assembling the team together in the UAE in time for this weekend has been far from glitch free.

Most recently, two of the players were delayed on entry at passport control at Dubai International Airport.

They appeared to be all set to be returning from whence they had come, until some high level telephone calls from Emirates Airline had smoothed their passage.

“We have been laughing that Marco is looking down on us and getting us through some sticky patches that we have had,” said Rory Greene, the coach from 2009 who is back in harness for this weekend.

“Somehow we seem to keep coming out the end. Two weeks ago we were still scraping around for the money, then suddenly Alpha Tours came through and said they would pay the rest we needed, which was awesome.”

The side are wearing 22 this weekend because it was the number Speranza wore on his shirt in the 2009 tournament.

Not, as in conventional XVs rugby, because he was a replacement. Rather he opted for the number because of his birthday, September 22.

They are hoping to meet up with the Argentina side at some point during the weekend, while there are also three of Speranza’s compatriots in the side.

“We had joked before Marco passed away about having a reunion,” said Ignacio Costa, one of three brothers in the team and a former Cambridge School colleague of Speranza.

“When that happened the boys wanted to make sure it did happen and we got the side together.”

After a couple of training sessions since reassembling this week, one which involved meeting the Fiji sevens team on Sunday evening, the side have clicked straight back into the old routine.

The International Open is one of the least predictable out of all the competitions over the Sevens weekend, but the Speranza 22 are targeting victory. And one thing is certain: they are going to do it with smiles on their faces.

“No-one is going to be out there with their heads down,” said Burkmar-Cullen. “We are all going to be out there doing our best for Marco. We are going to play hard and party hard, it is going to be a celebration for him. No one will be sad.”

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