Most teams competing at this year’s Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens are raising money for charity, but few teams will have a more touching story than Speranza 22.
The team will be competing in the International Open Men’s section for the second year in memory of a former team-mate who was an emerging talent with Abu Dhabi Harlequins at the time of his death in February 2013.
Marco Speranza only started playing rugby at Quins when he was 15 but was quickly recognised as an exceptional talent.
He played for the Arabian Gulf and also for Quins’ 2nd and then 1st teams as an 18 and 19 year old.
His biggest achievement was winning the Dubai 7s Gulf U18s tournament in 2009 in front of 40,000 spectators at 7he Sevens stadium.
With the world at his feet, however, Marco died in a plane crash in his native Argentina on February 8 last year – aged just 20.
To honour him, some of his former team-mates entered the Dubai Rugby Sevens last year - named after Marco and his birth date - narrowly missing out on a fitting tribute to Marco as they were beaten in the International Open Men’s semi-finals.
The boys are back again this year and are hoping to go one better.
The team have many links to Quins already, with coaches Rory Greene and Adam Hughes involved with the Zayed Sports City-based club, but this year they will be raising money for the Mike Ballard Foundation.
Mike, like Marco, is also a former Quins’ player, but was forced to give up the game earlier this year when he broke his back making a tackle while playing for Quins against Dubai Dragons in the ARFU West Asia Champion Club final.
Mike and Marco played together in the Quins’ first team during the former’s debut and the latter’s final season during 2011/2012.
All 11 of the original remaining players that won the trophy in 2009 made it back to Dubai for Speranza22’s debut last year and eight have returned to the Middle East this time around.
Only two of them live in Abu Dhabi while the others flew in from all over the world, including New Zealand, Canada and the UK.
“This is truly remarkable considering the lads are based all over the world and many have university exam commitments” said Rory.
“Last year was all about remembering Marco, this year it’s about putting in place a legacy that will ensure Marco’s memory lives on by helping others.”
Marco’s father Orlando added: “The fact that a bunch of guys have come from all over the world to play in the memory of our son means so much to us and shows just how much Marco was loved by all.
“It shows the true inspiration, friendship, loyalty, and pride that rugby instils in those involved with the game, qualities that our beloved Marco had in bucket loads.
“We are eternally grateful to the coaches and the team for enabling Marco’s short life to be remembered through something so positive; helping others.”
This year Mike has also flown back to the UAE from his home in the US to be with the team.
Adam said: “Having the Speranza 22 team back together is a great experience not just for the players but for all of our supporters in the rugby community.
“The excitement and joy that comes with the build up to having all the squad back together is amazing.”
One original member of the 2009 winning team and last year’s Speranza 22 line-up is Fraser Doake, and the 23 year old New Zealander will once again be playing for Marco in Dubai this weekend.
“Being able to remember Marco by doing what he loved and by being alongside his friends, family and team-mates has been the most remarkable experience of my life,” said Fraser.
“The outpouring of support from the sponsors and the public has shown that the community spirit of rugby is alive and well in Abu Dhabi.”