Former England Sevens star Rob Vickerman looks ahead to the Dubai sevens this weekend, the opening round of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens series.
There are not many places in the world you can be in 35 degree heat whilst also having an option for skiing, snow boarding, surfing or sand duning. Dubai has it all and is a great leg and firm favourite on the HSBC Sevens World Series.
Another season draws upon us and the players and supporters are probably wondering where the sevens pre-season has gone. There is no better a tournament to kick start the huge year ahead than the aptly named ‘7evens Stadium’ the oasis in the desert.
The invitational tournament is taking place on the same day as start of the women's competition and sets the tone, with a wonderful international flavour of players, supporters and the occasional vets team, who usually opt to play touch.
The first and most obvious point to mention for anyone viewing this weekend will be that there's a striking resemblance for all of the England players.
They have all shaved their heads, bar Dan Bibby who almost makes up for the rest with his wild mop. The act has provided a bit of fun, but has deeply serious undertones as the players have tamed their manes in support of Macmillan Cancer Research, with Alex Davis having lost his father just over two years ago.
The connotations of acts such as this are not only supporting a fellow team mate and about raising money, they show incredible solidarity for a group of players that at times show cohesion like few others.
I must confess to having a slight smile at the thought of the commentators trying to instantly decipher the players from one another.
England traditionally do very well in Dubai, winning twice and making the final twice in recent years.
Playing in, and winning, the final in a jam-packed stadium under the floodlights is a memory I will cherish, and something the players will no doubt be seeking to experience once more.
The expat support makes England feel like a home team but the conditions are far from routine. The heat is oppressive and relentless and the occasional sand storm can sweep in making it tougher to breath than in a spin session in a sauna - a tested comparable!
Iced towels and ice baths are a welcome prevention, however these conditions make it even more impressive to see just how fit these players are.
Dubai is a long way to travel to take on your neighbours, but the European flavour in England’s group adds a bit of zest.
France, Scotland and recently promoted Spain will offer challenges in the early stages, but the vastly experienced and reigning champions South Africa, will be the ones to watch out for.
There is also the increasingly impressive young Australian team with their star rugby league convert Maurice Longbottom, set to make his debut after impressing this summer in DHL Oktoberfest 7s.
The England women are also back with star players such as Emily Scarrett and led by Claire Allen, so it will be great to see them back after a tough year on the circuit last year as they prepare for what is a phenomenally exciting season.