Ready for action: Speranza 22.
The Dubai Rugby Sevens was another tale of so close, and yet so far for a team set up in memory of former Abu Dhabi Harlequins youth team player Marco Speranza.
Speranza 22 suffered another painful defeat to Wyvern Harlequins, who are becoming quite the bogey team for them, at the tournament held a week ago.
The team, formed in memory of Marco at the 2013 tournament, led their nemesis throughout the Trophy quarter-final of the International Open Men competition before a converted try at the death saw Speranza suffer another agonising 21-19 defeat. Marco died in a plane crash in his native Argentina in February 2013.
Nine months after the 20-year-old’s death, his friends decided the best way to remember him was to play in his honour at the Dubai Sevens.
Marco was regarded as a precocious talent at Quins, quickly rising through the ranks of the second and first teams while still a teenager, having only taken up the sport at 15.
A talented Speranza team, consisting of many former Quins as well as several current stars, including Izzy Foa’i and Chris Marshall, started strongly this year, comfortably beating O’Neill’s Nomads 43-5 in their second group game following an opening bye.
They came unstuck against a star-studded UR7s team that included former Glasgow Warriors player and Scottish international Thom Evans. With the game locked at 5-5, two quick yellow cards saw Speranza reduced to five men with the quality of the UR7s team showing as they scored two tries to win 17-5.
Despite a few injuries including a broken collar bone and a broken thumb, Speranza were the better side throughout their last-eight clash with Harlequins.
Rory Greene’s men had lost to Wyvern in the semi-finals on their 2013 Dubai debut. They beat them in last year’s group stages but lost 21-19 in the Cup final later that same weekend.
Leading 19-7 with four minutes left to play, their ominous run looked set to finally end only for a dogged Harlequins side to claw their way back and score right at the death to break Speranza hearts yet again.
“Considering the quality of the teams we played and the fact that they have all had a much longer preparation time for this event the lads can be rightly proud of their efforts,” said coach Greene.
“As always I was amazed at how much the players embraced the Speranza 22 spirit and how we continually match up to more established teams with many current or former professional players in their ranks.
“Our aim was to remember Marco and his legacy whilst supporting our charities, the Mike Ballard Foundation and Try Rugby (Rugby for children with special needs).
“The fact that in doing this we also managed to step up and compete with some of the best invitational and development teams there are, is a testament to the players and the Speranza 22 spirit. Bring on next year.”