The 2009 IRB Sevens World Cup is due to take place in Dubai from the 5th to the 7th of March. This will be considered a 'first' for the World Cup Sevens for a number of reasons. For a start, Dubai, despite hosting one of the largest annual rugby sevens events in the world, has never hosted a sevens world cup in the 5 previous outings of the tournament.
It is also the first ever major rugby competition to be entirely staged in the Middle East, helping the game of rugby to grow its borders and fan base. This is something the IRB are hugely conscious of and growing the sport outside of its traditional countries is one of its main objectives.
It is also the first time there has been a women's version of the Sevens World Cup, which will be held alongside the men's competition, also a first in world rugby, especially unusual in this Middle Eastern setting.
But in many ways, it is also familiar rather than a series of firsts. The annual Dubai Sevens Tournament is one of the biggest rugby tournaments in the world, and is one of the main events of the IRB World Series, last year attracting over 50,000 fans on both days of the tournament.
Many consider it to be the most lucrative of all the sevens markets and so it is no surprise to see the IRB choose to host the event in Dubai, with its established rugby fan base, great travel links and huge sponsorship deals.
The tournament itself will comprise of 24 teams (16 for the women's event), all vying for the title that is competed for every four years. The teams are entirely national squads, nine of whom have directly qualified with a further fifteen qualifying through their IRB appointed area qualifications.
It is widely expected to be one of the most open competitions yet. As well as the likes of traditional sevens experts Fiji, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England some of the other 'tier 1' nations are starting to become a force, with Wales and Scotland doing very well. On top of that, the development of nations such as USA, Portugal and Kenya suggests that there may well be a few more shocks in this tournament that in previous IRB Sevens World Cups.
But whatever the result Dubai's ability to host rugby, and to provide a wonderful destination for tourists, is certainly not in doubt. Great rugby and great weather, the perfect sevens combination.