x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Emirates Palace match proves sevens are the way to attract UAE rugby fans

The historic match between London Wasps and Harlequins at Emirates Palace proved one thing – sevens are the way to go when it comes to attracting UAE rugby fans and creating atmosphere.

All the talk was of growing rugby's global pull by staging a competitive 15-a-side match in a new territory where football is king.

Now the experiment has taken place, with the Wasps versus Harlequins game in Abu Dhabi, and the conclusions are obvious.

Rugby has the perfect vehicle to grow its popularity worldwide - and it is not the 15-a-side game.

The surroundings at the Emirates Palace hotel were admittedly spectacular, but the spectacle itself was drab, and not solely because it was so one-sided in the favour of Harlequins.

Despite the ground being almost full, the atmosphere was funereal. Not many of the spectators had a strong enough affiliation to cheer either way, indeed the UAE sides who played the warm-up match were better backed.

Many had gone as rugby novices just to see some live sport, and will have found the 15s game long, drawn-out, and full of plenty of indecipherable rules.

How different it is from sevens. The World Sevens Series starts again this weekend. It will be played out in front of throbbing stands at a full-to-capacity Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand, with the majority wearing fancy-dress.

It may seem gimmicky, but the sport itself is usually thrilling (both legs of the series so far, in Dubai and George, South Africa, have been settled by the final plays of see-saw finals).

And one thing sport cannot be without is an atmosphere. Rugby's missionaries should stick with the abridged version.