DUBAI // When the part-timers from the Arabian Gulf run out against Wales as the sun sets across the desert this afternoon, it will represent a symbolic moment in the career of a player enjoying his first taste of the international stage. If life had worked out slightly differently for Duncan Murray he could have been wearing the red of the world champions rather than the white of the Gulf.
The Dubai Hurricanes centre, who was earmarked for a place in the regional side almost as soon as he arrived in Dubai three and a half years ago, captained the Welsh schools side. He was even offered the chance to play for their sevens side, but had to turn down the approach as he is not actually Welsh. "I was 17 and when someone said: 'Do you want to come and train with Wales Under 18s?' It was international rugby, so I said yes," he said. "I was quite savvy about it. I saw it as a path to professionalism. Being a Gloucester boy, I wanted to play for Gloucester and I thought, if England don't want me I will go and play for Wales."
In two seasons in Welsh rugby Murray played alongside 10 players who went on to represent their full side, including the likes of grand slam winners, Dwayne Peel, Andy Powell and Michael Owen. "Subsequent to that I got invited to play for Wales sevens, I had to write a letter to tell them I didn't actually qualify," he said. "I could have a way round it, but at the time there was a scandal surrounding a New Zealander who was trying to play for Wales.
"I thought that I didn't want to become another player who was playing for a country that wasn't really theirs." All of which makes it ironic that, a decade on and having just turned 28, Murray is now making his international bow for a side of expatriates plying their trade in the Middle East. "It is a chance to play against the best," he said. "When I came out here I joked about it. I have no qualms about it. You are always going to have regrets. There is always the guy sat at the bar saying he could have been this or that."
His new teammates face different challenges to those he used to play alongside in three seasons with the Guinness Premiership outfit Gloucester. The Gulf's squad includes students, retail managers and a 17-year-old schoolboy, while Murray has a day job with the team's kit suppliers, Kukri. "Players like me are a dime a dozen, when you are 18 or 19, you are up there. Any of us have got a chance if you get a lucky break," he said. "Maybe I didn't take advantage of some situations, maybe I was unlucky in others, but that is the nature of the sport.
"I was never after the money, it was always because of the fact I loved the game. I always said that as soon as I chase the money, I will quit. I found myself playing up in Doncaster and the coach wasn't happy. He said: 'Look, we don't get on, do we?' I said no. "Then my friend called me and asked how rugby was, and I said: 'I'm quitting, I'm doing it for the wrong reasons'. "I came out here and love it. It is a different level, obviously, but it is an exciting level."