DUBAI // The Rugby Association (UAE RA) hope the new Emirates Four Nations tournament will become a feature of the UAE sporting calendar, after the dates for the inaugural competition were confirmed today.
The national team will be joined in Dubai by Hong Kong, Brazil and Kenya for an International Rugby Board-sanctioned tournament from December 9 to 16.
The new event is a boon for the national team, who usually have to wait 11 months to play Test match rugby, either side of the annual HSBC Asian Five Nations, which falls at the end of the domestic season.
As well as aiding the development of the senior representative side, the UAE RA also hope the tournament, which follows swiftly after the Dubai Rugby Sevens, will prove attractive to spectators.
"This will undoubtedly enhance our preparations for future challenges," Mohammed Falaknaz, the UAE RA chairman, said. "But on top of that we want to make this an event in its own right and to develop it in conjunction with the IRB in years ahead."
The tournament has been in the planning since the national team played Japan in the HSBC Asian Five Nations at The Sevens in May.
The UAE RA witnessed what they believe to be a strong appetite for Test rugby here in that match, when a crowd in excess of 1,000 people were in attendance.
The UAE do not have an official IRB ranking at present, as they are still in the process of completing full membership of the game's ruling body following the transition from the Arabian Gulf.
However, it is fair to suggest all three of their opponents — with Hong Kong ranked 27, Brazil 29 and Kenya 40 — are further up the ladder, for now.
However, the opportunity for the national team to test itself against sides of a greater standing is one to be relished, according to Wayne Marsters, the new UAE rugby manager.
"We have a huge few months ahead," Marsters, who has taken caretaker charge of the national XVs and sevens teams before the anticipated appointment of a new performance manager later this year, said.
"Some may say it's a big ask going into back-to back competitions [the IRB are expected to rule this week on whether the UAE can play at the Dubai Sevens] a week apart with a limited prep time.
"But any opportunity to play at a higher level should always be grabbed with both hands so it's my role to prepare our boys for that and support them as best I can."
The game's governing body have backed the UAE's new competition, which includes sides from three continents.
"The IRB is happy to support this excellent initiative by the UAE RA and [Hong Kong]," Mark Egan, the IRB's head of development and performance, said in a statement.
"Cross-regional competition between nations of a similar IRB ranking will allow us to benchmark these unions against each other and see how they are progressing."