x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A life in Sharjah with no regrets for Romanian rugby players

Dumbrava and Anghel happy to tackle Dubai Frogs on Friday while players they grew up with in Romania are preparing to face England at the World Cup.

Cristinel Anghel will face the Dubai Frogs for Sharjah Wanderers on Friday, going against medical advice.
Cristinel Anghel will face the Dubai Frogs for Sharjah Wanderers on Friday, going against medical advice.

The new Gulf rugby season will be welcomed in this weekend on a tide of enthusiasm among the rugby community generated by the ongoing Rugby World Cup.

For some of the amateur players in the UAE, however, the showpiece tournament in New Zealand is a reminder of what might have been.

Had life worked out a little differently, Ouvidiu Dumbrava and Cristinel Anghel might have been playing in the yellow of Romania against England in Dunedin this weekend.

Instead they will be turning out for Sharjah Wanderers against the Dubai Frogs in the second tier of UAE rugby competition on Friday afternoon.

The two schoolteachers were contemporaries of a number of the Romania World Cup squad when they grew up in the Black Sea town of Constanta. Daniel Carpo, the No 8 who scored a try against Scotland, plays for their home club, Farul Constanta.

Are they riven by jealousy and regrets that they never had the chance to go to the big show? Hardly.

"We both know the players who are playing at the World Cup now," Dumbrava, 25, says. "We have known them since we started playing rugby, because most of them are the same age as us, but what can we say?

"You never know what life is going to offer you. [Anghel] stopped playing because of injury, I stopped because of not enough money.

"This was our choice. We are not going to regret anything."

Dumbrava, a stocky fly-half who will pilot Sharjah's UAE Conference title challenge this season from No 10, was within an ace of going to the 2007 World Cup in France.

He was part of the back-up squad in France, and was ready to step up had one of Romania's first-string suffered injury.

They did not, and within a year he had opted to move to Sharjah to take up a position as a PE teacher instead. Professional rugby in Romania was just too precarious an existence.

"I started earning my first money from rugby when I was 14, while I was still at school, just to play weekend games and just when we won," he says. "That was enough to keep me playing. We needed the money. My parents had money, but it was not enough, there is never enough.

"Why did I quit? For the same reason: money. It is a professional sport, but if you want to be professional you need money, for things like physio, supplements, everything.

"You can make enough to live day by day, but if you want to support your family and build a future, it is not enough."

Sharjah's Romanian duo say rugby is around the fourth most popular sport in their homeland. Neither of them can be without it, however, even though they have flown the nest to a territory where it is more of a niche sport.

Anghel will be going against medical advice when he returns to play at The Sevens against the Frogs this weekend.

It was there that he injured his neck last December. He forged a formidable reputation as a hooker back in Romania, whom he represented at Under 18 and Under 19 World Championships, but his latest injury has predicated a move from the front to the back row.

He should not really be playing at all, but, despite their best efforts, injuries have not stopped him so far.

"I can't stay away," Anghel, 27, who moved to Sharjah in 2009 to teach alongside Dumbrava in the PE department at Choueifat School, says. "This sport is like a drug, you can't keep away from it."

Even when he first came to the sport, injuries nearly counted him out. Back then, though, it was because the marks he picked up while playing were blowing his cover.

"At first my parents didn't want me to play rugby. I lied to my mum, telling her that I was at school when I was off playing rugby," he says. "I would quit whatever I was doing to go and play rugby. Then she found out, because I would come home with scratches and bruises.

"She told me I couldn't go for rugby, because she knew there were lots of injuries in rugby, but I couldn't stop. Within one year I was in a team going to play tournaments in places like Italy and Austria." And now Sharjah.

The two Romanians are among a diverse squad of 13 different nationalities - with Georgia, Kenya and the Philippines also represented - registered at Sharjah Wanderers this season.

They aim to restore one of the UAE's most historic clubs to their former glories, and nothing less than winning the Conference title will do.

"Having built up the squad over the past two to three years, our expectations are high this season," Shane Breen, the team's manager, says. "We have been on the verge of success for so long and we strongly feel this is our best opportunity yet."

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