Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Ross Combe, centre, enjoyed his debut for the UAE in the Cup of Nations. Mike Young / The National
Ross Combe, centre, enjoyed his debut for the UAE in the Cup of Nations. Mike Young / The National

Experience wasted on old in UAE rugby

The UAE needs to focus its attention on blooding young players, writes Paul Radley.

The search for morsels of optimism from another brutal Cup of Nations campaign for the UAE national team is not an easy one.

At least, you could say, it was an experience. With a raft of senior players who would otherwise have been first picks for the team opting out of the tournament, there were a variety of new players given their first taste of rugby at this level.

Each is now three Test matches better off in terms of experience. Whether they will be around even this time next year, however let alone become the pillars of a bright new future for UAE rugby is a moot point.

The fact the vast majority of national team players have to wait for three years before they become eligible for selection means the UAE team usually have an average age far in excess of their rivals.

The same was the case in the Cup of Nations. While Zimbabwe, for instance, travelled to Dubai with 23 players under 22 years old, the UAE were handing debuts to players the wrong side of 30 and one who is well over 40.

Ironically, the new old guard performed impressively, but it is hardly a sustainable selection policy.

Zimbabwe were not the only ones with a genuinely youthful new broom. Hong Kong gave opportunities to a host of new backline players, on account of the fact they will need them next year when their sevens programme goes into overdrive.

Belgium, the eventual champions, are clearly good at it, too. Alan Williams, their full-back, is already the leading point scorer in Belgium's rugby history. Yet he only turned 25 on the day of the second game.

The UAE's youth cupboard is not entirely bare. Jonathan Greenwood, the Abu Dhabi-born hooker, continued his emergence as a front-row forward of substance last week.

Ross Combe was a great find during the Cup of Nations. The 19-year-old Al Ain Ambler should be a nailed on starter for next year's Asian Five Nations, if only for the longevity he can offer the national team.

Meanwhile, Quihen Marais is another product of Al Ain who is tied to play for the national team. He, more than anyone else, represents the future of UAE rugby.

He is studying in South Africa, but the powers that be must find the funds to fly him back here next time the national team have an assignment if they are serious about building a competitive team for the future.


twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Manager Matt Williams benching star Bryce Harper, above, may have sent the wrong message to the rest of the Washington Nationals. Mike Ehrmann / AFP

Benching Harper sends Williams’s right message the wrong way

Matt Williams, the Washington Nationals manager, made the biggest move of his 18-game tenure on Saturday, benching rising star Bryce Harper for his “lack of hustle”.

 Players such as George Springer are a sign that things are starting to swing in the Houston Astros' favour. But more help is needed. Scott Halleran / AFP

Houston Astros are still earth-bound but help is on the way

As harbingers of a new era go, the Houston Astros could have done worse than misspelling their new phenom’s name on his major-league debut.

 Luis Suarez became the first Liverpool player to score 30 Premier League goals in a season since Ian Rush in 1987. Stefan Wermuth / Reuters

Sterling and Suarez inpire Liverpool to win over Norwich City

The win takes the Premier League table-toppers to 80 points from 35 games.

 Arsenal's Lukas Podolski celebrates his second goal during the Premier League match against Hull City at The KC Stadium in Hull, England, on April 20, 2014. Lynne Cameron / AP Photo

Arsenal maintain push for top-four finish with victory at Hull

Hull could end up in Europe regardless of the FA Cup final result if Arsenal finish in the Uefa Champions League places

 Ashish Nehra of Chennai Super Kings bowls to Kings XI Punjab at Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National

Hard-hitting Chennai not deterred by opening loss in IPL

But some questions remain about the team's attack ahead of Monday's match against Delhi Daredevils in Abu Dhabi, writes Osman Samiuddin.

 Stanislas Wawrinka turned away fellow Swiss Roger Federer with a 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 victory at the Monte Carlo Masters on April 20, 2014. Julian Finney / Getty Images

Wawrinka backhands Federer aside at Monte Carlo Masters

Stanislas Wawrinka won the Monte Carlo Masters for the first time after rallying to beat Roger Federer 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 in a rare all-Swiss final.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National