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Imad Reyal is the only non-Emirati to travel with the UAE sevens squad to Malaysia for the first leg of the Asian Sevens Series. Mike Young / The National
Imad Reyal is the only non-Emirati to travel with the UAE sevens squad to Malaysia for the first leg of the Asian Sevens Series. Mike Young / The National

Emiratis certain to get their chance in Asian rugby sevens series

Sri Lankan fullback Imad Reyal included in squad, but UAE Rugby Federation say squads will now be "exclusively Emirati". Paul Radley reports.

DUBAI // The UAE Rugby Federation are not ready to sever ties with their expatriate enthusiasts just yet, despite suggesting they will be represented "exclusively by Emiratis" for the first time this weekend.

The governing body have named 11 UAE nationals in the squad for the opening leg of the Asian Sevens Series, starting in Malaysia on Saturday.

As the federation look to build a side to compete at next year's Asian Games, it was the intention to have an all-Emirati tour squad for the trip to Kuala Lumpur.

However, last week they made a request to Imad Reyal, the country's leading player in the abridged format, to help them on their Malaysia mission.

It was arranged for the employers of Reyal, who was born in Kandy and owns a Sri Lankan passport, to agree to his leave request at short notice.

Regardless of the presence of one expatriate player in the side, the message is clear from the governing body that they regard the future of the national sevens side as being for Emiratis.

A press release issued by the federation on Tuesday confirmed they intend to "select only UAE nationals for the four legs of the Asian Sevens Series".

The governing body says it is now "the turn of the Emiratis" to represent the nation on the rugby field.

"It's a very difficult decision," said Qais Al Dhalai, the secretary general of the UAE Rugby Federation.

"But we want to promote rugby among Emiratis. If we don't give them a chance to represent the country at sevens, they will never, ever develop.

"The expatriates have been doing it for the past 40 years. Now it's the turn of the Emiratis to be given a chance to play internationally and trust our players.

"The board has made a lot of investment. Dreaming is the right for everyone and dreams always come without limits. We are confident that the outcome will be positive and the future is bright."

Rugby sevens will be an Olympic sport for the first time in 2016.

The UAE squad headed to Malaysia includes five products of the federation's nascent schools-development plan, as well as more senior players such as Cyrus Homayoun and Hareb Al Azri.

Yet the inexperienced nature of the side suggests this weekend will be a tough debut for Epeli Lagiloa, the newly appointed performance manager.

Lagiloa, who was overseeing the side's final gym session before the series kicks off, says he has been impressed at what he has seen since his arrival last month.

"I came at the wrong time because it was Ramadan, but there was no shortage of commitment, he said. "They were willing to train from 10pm till midnight. The boys took up challenge and were committed to train at odd hours.

"I'm satisfied with their fitness levels and we are working on defence, because we can score at any time."

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