x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A new dawn for UAE rugby side puts Arabian Gulf days in the past

When the UAE national side faces Tunisia in a friendly on Friday, the team will have few connections left back to its Arabian Gulf days.

UAE national rugby team that will face Tunisia in a friendly on Friday has few connections to its Arabian Gulf past.
UAE national rugby team that will face Tunisia in a friendly on Friday has few connections to its Arabian Gulf past.

Slowly fades the Arabian Gulf.

The transition which started at the start of last year when a newly formed UAE side officially assumed the place of the regional side in international competition is now almost complete.

The remnants of rugby's past in this region are receding with every Test. Barely anyone in the side for Friday's match in Tunisia has played an international before, let alone remember what it was like being part of a multi-nation team.

Between his time with both the Gulf and now the UAE, Sean Hurley, the Jebel Ali Dragons wing, has played 36 Test matches. That total comfortably exceeds the aggregate of the other 14 players in the starting line up this weekend.

He was already getting a complex about being the old man of the team even before 21-year-old Jonathan Greenwood was summoned for the Tunis trip.

Although much was unquestionably lost when the make-up of rugby in the Gulf was so drastically altered, there is plenty of reason for optimism about the future.

The back line, including new additions such as Murray Strang, Andy Russell and Patrick Hegarty, has as much attacking prowess as any side before it here.

If their forwards can secure some good quality possession, promise abounds.

"We are looking at having a solid first phase for our backs to attack off, and of course show we can score tries," said Duncan Hall, the UAE coach.

The feeling of change also includes the captaincy, with Alistair Thompson, the back-row forward, being handed the role following the retirement of Mike Cox-Hill.

This is Thompson's fourth match in a UAE shirt. However, the process of qualifying to be eligible for the national team means he has been around for ages.

Players from the Abu Dhabi Harlequins side which he has captained - and coached - to great success over recent seasons provide the backbone for the new UAE team.

"For a number of years now people have been excited about the likes of Murray Strang and Andy Russell pulling on a jersey in the same team," Thompson said.

"Add Tim Fletcher, Imad Reyal in there, guys who are very exciting runners, it is a good mix. If our forwards can give the boys quick ball, then I know these guys can do damage because I have played with and against them for the past few years."

pradley@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE