The Welsh squad celebrate winning the Plate final in Dubai
After a gruelling six weeks of training since the Gold Coast, the squad departed for Dubai and South Africa with three new caps in the squad, Jason Harris (aka 'Tracey'), Cory Allen and Alex Webber.
On arrival at the airport there was some good news, with three business class seats available for the squad. Team manager David Jenkins (aka 'the Colonel') devised a carefully constructed selection policy from his military experience to determine the three lucky candidates. It involved Cory Allen's hat and 12 names written on the back of a newspaper in which Rhys Jones and two World Cup winners Richie Pugh and Lee Williams got selected.
On arrival, there was a very tired party apart from three energetic players who managed to have five hours sleep and a fillet steak during their flight. The other members who were in zoo class were not impressed with the small portion of chicken and rice they were served mid-flight.
Our trip from the airport was a short 5min journey to the Crown Plaza Hotel, which is probably the best hotel on the IRB circuit. Big rooms, double beds, pools and jacuzzi along with great food and of course the weather is what makes the hotel and the Dubai leg one of the greats.
On our second night in Dubai, a few of the boys led by Richie Pugh headed to Karama market where you can find all the major suppliers for 'Trotters Independent Traders'. This is where the 'Colonel' purchases all his Christmas presents and ensures he has a right hand man to show him around the shops to carry all his bags.
Instead of heading to the market, Lee Williams, James 'Cubby' Davies, Adam 'the Bull' Thomas and Rhys Shellard (aka Burt Reynolds) decided to head to the mall to check out Regent Beach Resort hotel in which girlfriends and friends arriving for the sevens had booked previously.
During the visit to the mall Rhys decided he wanted to visit a shop that was upstairs. Rhys, who by the way is our captain and leader, had got in the lift on the first floor naturally expecting the door that he got in, would be the same door that would open on his intended floor.
As the three of us sat waiting for the return of Rhys we saw the elevator doors opening, there stood an athletic man with his back to us desperately trying to prise open the doors of the opposite side of the lift. Making some anxious noises and cries for help Burt realised his mistake and slowly turned round to the sight of us falling off our seats in laughter.
From the mall we got a taxi to investigate the Regent Beach Resort hotel before the arrivals from the UK. The taxi driver was unsure but believed he knew the hotel we were looking for, which had a different name - Dubai Marina Resort. Upon inspection we realised the hotel was of a very high standard, even though we spent 30min trying to navigate ourselves around the resort, getting lost on numerous occasions. With the numerous restaurants and pools on site, the hotel seemed like the perfect location for a holiday, were Lee was very proud of his choice as the hotel we were inspecting was of high quality in relation to the overall price.
But due to the different name of the hotel, when we caught the next taxi, we decided to ask the driver if this was the hotel we were looking for, in despair his answer was 'no, it's just 500m down the road, I'll take you'
After a short drive down the windy road, we arrived at the destination and the look on all of our faces must have been priceless as the hotel we were looking at seemed like a complete dive. With the building looking worn down, and a few suspect characters around the area, this hotel certainly wasn't the one advertised.
On return to the taxi, we all just burst out laughing, Lee with more worry than anything else at the fact that this hotel was certainly not a place to stay in. On our return journey to our hotel, the circumstances were made worse with the taxi driver's constant sarcastic comments on asking 'so you booked this for others, yeah? Oh man you're in trouble.'
Thankfully the driver's wittiness made the situation less troubling, and thankfully on return to the hotel, our liaison managed to come up with another hotel which was of a higher standard. This meant that those arriving from the UK didn't have to endure probably one of the worst hotels in Dubai. Amongst the chaos there was a happy ending, but one of the weirdest and funniest nights the four of us have ever had.
After a busy week and a tough training schedule the squad were ready to hit the ground running in the tournament. Day one was a successful day with wins against Argentina and Russia ensuring a second place finish after a narrow loss to New Zealand 14-7. It was a fantastic effort from the boys and also nice to see the three new caps get on the playing field and doing so well.
Day 2 started with a loss to eventual winners Samoa 19-7. The boys were utterly disappointed as we didn't quite set out the way we planned, which therefore saw us fall short in the quarter final. After the loss the squad felt that ending the tournament with a plate win is what we deserved for our efforts in the last seven weeks, which proved in our performances by beating Fiji comfortably 27-5 and then Canada 21-14 in the final to clinch the trophy. It capped off a great weekend, which also saw hat-tricks from Rhys Shellard and Rhys Jones even though one was a combined distance of 12meters.
Finishing 5th was a great achievement from the squad, but there is a belief that with the same commitment and endeavour we could go further in South Africa next week.
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.