New Wales Sevens coach Paul John has been thrown in at the deep end in the opening round of the IRB World Series in Dubai with a first outing against reigning champions New Zealand.
Wales are drawn in Pool A for the first of eight events in the grand prix style Series and will also play Australia and Africa 2.
Six months after defending their IRB Sevens World Series crown, New Zealand have been named top seeds at the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens, the first event of the 2008/09 season to be played on 28-29 November 2008.
New Zealand proved unbeatable for much of last season, winning in Dubai and then capturing four further Cup titles on the bounce in George (South Africa), Wellington, San Diego and Hong Kong before finishing the season strongly to defend their Edinburgh crown and rubber-stamp a remarkable season, their eighth Series triumph in nine years.
Their reward is a tough start to the 10th anniversary Sevens season and a mouth-watering clash in Pool A with trans-Tasman rivals Australia, who have a new coach in former test star Michael O'Connor. Wales also start in New Zealand's pool under new coach Paul John and the line-up will be completed by the African qualifier for next year's Rugby World Cup Sevens, to be decided on 31 October - 1 November. .
The Dubai tournament kick-starts seven months of intense international Sevens action, including the eight events on the grand-prix style Series and the Rugby World Cup Sevens, scheduled to be held in Dubai on 5-7 March 2009.
The Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens will be the first event to be played at 'The Sevens', a new purpose-built stadium which will be the headquarters for rugby in the region. The new state-of-the-art facility will also host the Sevens World Cup for both men and women three months later.
"Dubai never fails to deliver a fantastic event for the teams and the fans and this year is historic with the tournament moving to a brand new venue. It's a real opportunity for the teams to get to know the place, and for the venue to establish itself," said Beth Coalter, the IRB's Sevens Manager.
"The big question has to be whether the other teams can hit back at New Zealand's dominance in the last Series, and I think the fact that it is also a World Cup year means that they can," Coalter added.
"As we saw for the last Sevens World Cup in 2005, and during 2006 for the Commonwealth Games, these high-profile events have a tendency to attract more of the top players for the entire season, which can only be a good thing for further increasing the global appeal of Sevens. RWC Sevens 2009 taking place half way through this 10th Series Anniversary year will set new standards."
Nearly 40 players were involved in the first Wales Under 18 training session of the season. WRU National Performance Manager Gethin Watts is excited at the potential shown by the group and expects the Regional Under 18 Championship to hone their skills even further.