x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Harlequins' Foa'i receives glowing praise from London

The teenager impresses during his stint spent with London club as teammates look forward to see him grow in role as inside centre, writes Paul Radley.

Having rubbed shoulders with professionals at London Harlequins academy, Iziq Foa'i has raised the expectations on himself according to his Abu Dhabi teammates. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Having rubbed shoulders with professionals at London Harlequins academy, Iziq Foa'i has raised the expectations on himself according to his Abu Dhabi teammates. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

An Abu Dhabi schoolboy has been given a glowing report by London Harlequins after impressing during a stint with the English Premiership club this summer.

Iziq Foa'i, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins centre, spent a week training with the Quins academy last month and played two matches for their Under 18 side.

Howard Graham, the head coach of the Quins academy, was impressed by what he saw from the teenager during his short time in the UK.

"Iziq fitted in very well," Graham said. "We spoke to him about his talent from what we saw in the week he was here.

"We have looked at the footage and have looked into the possibility of him coming over here once he finishes school, but that will also depend on what he would like to do."

Mixing with some of the most highly regarded young players in England at a professional club marks the latest step in the emergence of one of the UAE's brightest young talents.

Foa'i is 17 and studying for his AS levels at the The Cambridge High School, but he is already being measured for a senior first-team shirt at Abu Dhabi's leading club.

It has been a swift rise for the powerful New Zealander who had not played the union code before moving to the UAE capital with his family from Auckland when he was 13.

He acknowledges he felt a slight sense of trepidation ahead of his trip to London, but also an overwhelming desire to try to impress.

"It was very exciting - and unexpected as well - to get the chance to go to London," Foa'i said.

"I was a little nervous because of the standard of English rugby and all the great players there are there, but I was more excited than anything. I wanted to see where I stood in relation to everyone else.

"We played two matches and the standard was great which was really good for me to push myself. I was quite pleased with my performance."

The links between the long-established London club and their associates in Abu Dhabi have been fortified this summer.

At the same time as Foa'i was at the Quins academy, Jeremy Manning, the Abu Dhabi team's head coach, was representing their senior sevens side.

Manning, who was a guest player during the Premiership Sevens Series and World Club Sevens, hopes Foa'i will be the first of many Abu Dhabi players to enjoy a London exchange.

"I did get the chance to catch up with Iziq while I was there and he seemed to be loving being in a professional environment," Manning said.

"My main goal for going to London was to help make the existing bond between the two clubs stronger, so hopefully guys like Iziq can make the next step."

Foa'i figures strongly in Manning's plans for the new campaign, which starts later this month. As he looks to construct a side capable of regaining top-billing from Jebel Ali Dragons, he sees the schoolboy as a potential starter at inside-centre.

That might mean Foa'i playing between two former professionals, with Manning himself at fly-half and Ben Bolger, a former London Broncos rugby league player, at outside centre.

Manning believes the young New Zealander belongs in such celebrated company.

"He is an exceptional player who has all the skills, is physical and he understands the game really well," the player-coach said.

"I think this year will be a massive year for him with our club, and he is only going to get better with time as he is still so young.

"What he is showing at the moment is all the things senior players can do, so he has a big future ahead of him."

Graham, who likened Foa'i's attributes to those of Jordan Turner-Hall, Quins' England centre, hopes to scout for more talent in Abu Dhabi in the future.

"We are coming to Abu Dhabi for a training week in October and I will certainly be looking at the younger age groups to see if there are any players we should be keeping an eye on," the coach said.

"We are looking for the best players that we possibly can to come to the Harlequins academy."

pradley@thenational.ae

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