ABU DHABI // The competition for places in the first national UAE team will be at its fiercest when the top two sides in the UAE Premiership meet at The Sevens this afternoon.
The ongoing revamp of the game in the Middle East means the UAE assumed the Arabian Gulf's International Rugby Board (IRB) membership, as well as its place in the Asian Five Nations, at the end of last year.
Aspiring players have begun 2011 knowing they still have the same man to impress, the erstwhile Gulf coach Bruce Birtwistle.
The New Zealander has been assisting the Dubai Dragons this season, and their players have been straining to catch the eye.
Dan Heal, the club captain of the table-topping Dragons, lined up at hooker for the last Gulf side to take the field.
He missed two months of the campaign with a ruptured medial ligament in his knee, and knows he will be making up for lost time when he lines up against second-placed Dubai Hurricanes today.
"At this stage of the season, I know that my opposite number in this game [Hurricanes captain Chris Gregory] is going to be my competitor for the national team as well," Heal said.
"That means there is going to be a battle within a battle, as well. This is always a fixture we want to win because the Hurricanes and Dragons are leading clubs and we know that one or the other will always be up there come the end of the season."
The third-placed Dubai Exiles travel to Abu Dhabi to face the Harlequins at Zayed Sports City this afternoon.
"We are coming back into some form and we have people coming back, so the squad is getting stronger now," said Ali Thompson, the Abu Dhabi coach.
"It is nice to have a problem with selection rather than just picking the guys who are available."