x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A family affair for the UAE rugby sevens team

Shaheer Reyal joins younger brother Imad as the UAE ace Malaysia and Hong Kong in the Borneo Sevens.

Imad Reyal will move to scrum-half in the Borneo Sevens to accommodate Andy Russell in the fly-half role. Mike Young / The National
Imad Reyal will move to scrum-half in the Borneo Sevens to accommodate Andy Russell in the fly-half role. Mike Young / The National

DUBAI // Given the impact Imad Reyal has had in the 10 months since he debuted for the UAE, the country's rugby bosses probably wish they could clone him.

They have done the next best thing ahead of this weekend by summoning older brother Shaheer - who Imad deems "better than me" - into the national team for the trip to the Borneo Sevens.

The former Sri Lanka Under 19s fly-half has been employed as a cargo agent by Emirates Airline for the past five years, and regularly plays for the company's cricket and rugby teams. Now the 26-year-old back has been handed his chance in the international game after impressing the UAE coaching team of Duncan Hall and Wayne Marsters.

"I went to training with my brother, but I wasn't expecting to play, I was just going for fitness," Shaheer said.

"I have enjoyed whatever training Duncan has done, it has been fantastic. I never expected a place so it has been very exciting and I am really happy about it."

Younger brother Imad, 22, has become a fixture in the UAE side after graduating almost directly from Lanka Lions social rugby to the international arena last year.

He marked his Dubai Rugby Sevens debut last December by scoring one of the tries of the tournament in the pool match against Samoa.

As if to show it was no fluke, he scored a similarly eye-catching try when the UAE secured their place in the top flight of Asian rugby by beating Kazakhstan at the end of last season.

"It is great to be playing together as brothers, and it should be good heading down [to Borneo]," Imad said.

The Reyals are currently establishing a formidable sporting pedigree. Their younger brother Adil, who was born in Dubai, has also represented Sri Lanka's Under 19 cricket team as an all-rounder.

Judging by the amount of talent floating around the family gene pool, Shaheer should carry no fears with him when he makes the step up to senior international level for the first time when the UAE face Malaysia and Hong Kong today.

"Shaheer has had even less rugby experience than Imad had at this time last year," said Marsters, the UAE sevens coach.

"He is a similar kind of player, in that he has a nice sidestep and he is very fit.

"I am not expecting him to have quite the same impact Imad has had, but he is still a good asset to have."

The Reyals are one of two sets of brothers in the national team, with Mohanned and Yousef Shaker also part of the tour party to South-east Asia.

Imad is likely to play at scrum-half in Borneo this weekend, providing the ammunition for the fit-again Andy Russell in the playmaker's role.

The prospect of having two such fleet-footed backs alongside each other in the same line-up is an exciting - and so far unprecedented for the UAE sevens team - one, according to the team's coach.

"It is not often you get two players like that in the same sevens team who have some wheels and can move as well," Marsters said.

pradley@thenational.ae

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