The UAE's oldest club say they hope their relocation to Abu Dhabi and rebranding will help them attract new fans, players, and affiliation with the English Premiership champions.
Abu Dhabi Saracens keen to touch down with bigger fan base
ABU DHABI // As host to one of the world's largest sevens events, seven domestic clubs, as well as the headquarters of the national rugby association, Dubai is firmly entrenched as the centre of the sport in the UAE.
However, the monopoly it holds has started to be challenged. The UAE UAE staged its first official Test match in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, as a nod both to the progress rugby has made in the capital, as well as the potential for growth here.
Now the overwhelming dominance of Dubai on the field will be tested again when a second club from Abu Dhabi joins the senior domestic competition.
Abu Dhabi Saracens will make their bow in the UAE Conference when the 2011/12 campaign starts.
The country's newest competitive club also claims to be the oldest in the UAE. The side has been formed from the remnants of a long-running team based on Das Island, the oil and gas industry hub in the Arabian Gulf.
Expatriates stationed on Das sent a side to the first Dubai Rugby Sevens, back in 1970, and club officials are "97 per cent sure" the side pre-dates the Dubai Exiles.
"There is so much legacy behind this team," Dave Jackson, the club president who has overseen the metamorphosis from Das to Abu Dhabi Saracens over the past five years, said. "Now we are wanting to grow and take it to the next level. There is a lot to the club and we hope Abu Dhabi is going to get behind us."
Saracens had more than 40 players even before their official launch this week.
They also have a junior development plan, which will be overseen by Paul Lowe, their director of coaching, who is highly regarded thanks largely to his time spent within New Zealand schools rugby. "The timing was really good for a second club in Abu Dhabi, so we thought let's resurrect, rebrand and relocate Das Island right here in Abu Dhabi," said Brett Bowie, the club chairman.
As part of the rebranding, the club have adopted the name Saracens - meaning the two Abu Dhabi clubs are both ostensibly linked to London clubs playing in the English Premiership. Harlequins have the only official affiliation at present, but Saracens hope to persuade the current champions of England to associate with them as soon as possible.
"It seemed the perfect name and perfect club to affiliate with," Bowie said, citing the Dubai-based former Samoa player Trevor Leota's decision to name his own club, Dubai Wasps, after his former employers in London, as the inspiration. "Trevor picked up the name and ran with it, then worried about the affiliation further down the track. Wasps warmed to it.
"We have made initial contact with Saracens, and will meet them in July to show them what our plan is. I think it will be in their interest to have a club in Abu Dhabi they can call a sister club."