DUBAI // When the representative side known as the Arabian Gulf played at the Dubai Rugby Sevens for the final time a year ago, the tournament was consumed by the feeling of it being the end of an era.
The UAE's debut at the annual showpiece this weekend should have been the start of a new beginning. In truth, it might have been more of an ending than the dissolution of the Gulf ever was.
As the home union, the Gulf had been guaranteed entry to every Dubai Sevens. The UAE assumed their place this year on a special invitation from the International Rugby Board.
However, from next year, the UAE will have to qualify to play in their home event.
The criteria for doing so has yet to be set, but one thing is certain - the national team will have to improve markedly if they are to play in the biggest event on the rugby calendar again any time soon.
"We have had some real challenges thrown in front of us," Wayne Marsters, the UAE coach, said after his side were harshly dealt with on their world series debut this weekend.
"We need to sit down and sort out our sevens programme and say, 'These are the aims we are going to commit to over the next one to two years, then three to five years'.
"We need to get the resources in place to do that, then get players to buy in to the programme, sort out our eligibility criteria, then just get on with it."
The challenges to which Marsters referred were plentiful, even aside from the usual trouble the amateur players of the UAE deal with as a matter of routine when facing the professionals of the world series.
Marsters had only been instilled in his new role as rugby manager just over a month before the Sevens, and immediately took on the running of both the sevens and XVs sides.
The sevens side he inherited had finished ninth out of 12 teams in the Asian Series.
Next year that series will probably act as the qualifying process for both the Hong Kong and Dubai Sevens events.
Marsters had just one international competition, the Goa Sevens two weeks ago, to run the rule over his players in that time.
Even then, a visa problem meant he could not be with his new team during that tournament in India.
Selection policy has also been confused. Rory Binder, the Jebel Ali Dragon who is one of the leading lights in domestic rugby, was on standby for all three tournaments of the Asian Series. However, he did not travel once as a debate over his eligibility went unresolved.
The selection of Rama Chand, the Toa centre, for Dubai was also vetoed on account of non-rugby related reasons, while Quihen Marais, the highly-rated Al Ain youngster, fell victim to illness on the eve of the Sevens.
Sean Hurley captained the Gulf in their final Dubai Sevens, and was one of just three survivors of that competition in this UAE squad.
He said having to qualify next time around will lend the sevens programme here a new focus.
"It will be a major goal for the whole year for the UAE," said Hurley, who played in his eighth IRB sevens this weekend.
Tim Fletcher, the UAE sevens captain, said the nine new caps in the UAE side now know the standard that is required to compete at the elite level. "I think that is a taste of what international rugby is like," the Dragons' back said.
"The boys have competed and realise how quick and tough and physical it is. They have to try to get their level as close to that as possible."
Marsters and his players will have to change mindset quickly, as the XVs side are scheduled to host the Emirates Cup of Nations, which also involves Kenya, Hong Kong and Brazil, starting this weekend.
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