x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rugby union: Effects from Gulf break-up still hitting home in UAE

Since the UAE hosted the World Cup four years ago, the regression has been painful since the switch from the multi-nation Gulf to the single-state UAE, writes Paul Radley.

The UAE national rugby team has fallen on hard times compared to four years ago when it hosted the World Cup. Mike Young for The National
The UAE national rugby team has fallen on hard times compared to four years ago when it hosted the World Cup. Mike Young for The National

This weekend's Rugby World Cup in Moscow provides a fitting cue for some introspection on how the sport has progressed – or otherwise – in the UAE in the recent past.

When the previous edition of the competition was staged, in Dubai four years ago, the sport in this country was at its zenith.

Staging a World Cup itself was quite a coup, but the UAE is well used to staging top-class events. Participating in them has been a less exact science.

But the Arabian Gulf side were worth their place. No finer group of players had ever been assembled here than that which played at that season's Dubai Sevens and then the World Cup.

No side had ever been better prepared, either. When the Gulf's XVs side subsequently romped to promotion to the Asian Five Nations top tier, then beat Hong Kong and South Korea the following season, the effects were clear to see.

And then? Nothing. The regression has been painful since the switch from the multi-nation Gulf to the single-state UAE.

Back then, players were taken out of their domestic club sides at the behest of the coach as he wanted them fresh and injury free. Now the leading players prefer to skip national duty and play solely for their clubs, as the national team have slipped so far off the pace they rarely have a chance to compete.

Nobody quite knew for sure how the break-up of the Gulf was going to work out. With the best will in the world, it is difficult to see anything has been gained so far.

pradley@thenational.ae

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