ABU DHABI // Wayne Marsters, the UAE rugby national team coach, yesterday pledged his players would use this year’s Dubai Rugby Sevens to show the world how strong the game is in this country, knowing they may not get a chance to play in the tournament again any time soon.
The International Rugby Board (IRB) announced yesterday they had offered the host nation an invite to play in the tournament, which takes place on December 1-3.
No invites will be given in 2012 or beyond meaning the newly formed amateur sevens team would find it incredibly difficult to qualify for future Dubai Sevens, as they would need to beat far more established professional rugby-playing countries in qualifying.
“The fact the IRB has given us this place at the Dubai Sevens shows that they have been carefully watching what we have done here, and that we tick a lot of their boxes,” said New Zealander Marsters.
“We are realistic about we can achieve in the tournament but I know how proud the guys are and they will be so determined so acquit themselves properly. This is the best opportunity ever for UAE rugby to lay down a marker for the world.
“The fact a UAE side will run out to face some world-class players is just fantastic.”
The UAE team was created after the Arabian Gulf– comprising players from Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – was disbanded at the end of last year, but they did not automatically assume the Gulf’s place in their home competition.
The side have recently played sevens tournaments in China and Borneo and were aiming to convince the IRB that they merited an invite for Dubai.
They will play their first match on December 2 – National Day.
“This is magnificent news for rugby in this country and it will be a proud day for the UAE when our own team plays in one of the biggest tournaments in the sport,” said Ian Bremner, chief executive officer of the UAE Rugby Association (UAE RA).
“This is another milestone in a wonderful year for UAE rugby. We have played our first test match [in April when the 15-a-side team beat Kazakhstan 24-10 in a HSBC Asian Five Nations match in Abu Dhabi] this year and now this.
“And we even play our first game on National Day. What could be better?
“I hope this is a significant step towards the UAE being granted full international status as a rugby national by the IRB. At the moment, we are juvenile, if you like, and that is our ultimate ambition.”
Marsters and his players will meet tonight at Dubai’s Zabeel Stadium to begin in earnest their preparation for the tournament.
Veteran sevens player Sean Hurley of the Jebel Ali Dragons was considering retiring, before he heard yesterday’s news.
“I’m 33 and my thought was that I’d had enough, but this would be too good to pass up,” he said.
“I have been involved with rugby sevens in the region since 2004 and, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t see this day coming.”
And Bremner hoped that there would be at least one local player in the squad.
“There will likely be some Emirati representation, but I would not want to pre-empt the coach’s decision,” he said.
The full line-up of international men’s teams competing in the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, which starts on December 1, is: Argentina, Australia, Canada, England, Fiji, France, Kenya, New Zealand, Portugal, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, USA, Wales, and Zimbabwe.