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JJ Fanucci will be the third UAE-qualified player to arrive at a South African academy. Jake Badger for The National
JJ Fanucci will be the third UAE-qualified player to arrive at a South African academy. Jake Badger for The National

JJ Fanucci to leave for South Africa

Exit by one of the UAE's most highly regarded rugby union player will be a loss, writes Paul Radley.

In a week in which UAE rugby appointed a South African coach for their new South African-influenced academy, one of the country's brightest young prospects confirmed his intention to move in the opposite direction.

Steve Botha has arrived to head the Sharks UAE Rugby Academy, which launches next month, as well as coach Abu Dhabi Saracens.

He hopes the inception of the new finishing school will help convince leading young players here to remain in the country once they have completed school.

However, his arrival may be too late to stop JJ Fanucci, the back-row forward from the Dubai Exiles, departing for South Africa.

The flanker, who played for the Arabian Gulf and UAE in representative age-group rugby, is hoping to secure financing so he can attend the highly regarded Stellenbosch Rugby Academy.

The 19 year old aims to further his development for the next year at the academy, with a view to earning a professional contract in Italy at the end of it.

"I am using it as a stepping stone as I want to end up playing in Italy," said Fanucci, who is eligible to represent the UAE, Italy and South Africa at rugby. "I know [the academy will play against] Italy's under 21 side and I want to measure myself against those players to see where I stand."

Fanucci will become the third UAE-qualified youngster to be stationed in South African rugby's seat of learning. Quihen Marais, the Al Ain-raised back, moved there last year to further his rugby while studying at university.

Stephan Venter, a close friend of Fanucci's and the son of the Exiles coach Jan, is also in the area, having initially switched from Dubai to take up a place at the Western Province Rugby Institute.

"JJ will be a huge loss to the Exiles, not only his rugby skills but he is a pleasure to have around," said Jan Venter.

"But looking at the bigger picture, he will definitely benefit from it. I really believe he is an exceptional sevens player and that is the type of game I could see him having a career in."

Today's trip to Doha is likely to be Fanucci's last for the Exiles for some time. However, they are looking forward to welcoming back two club stalwarts when David Clark, the former Gulf captain, and Brett Williams join their tour squad.


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