x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

'Big ask' answered with heart by Shaheen

Emirati rugby seems to be feast or famine, but the players competing for the UAE Shaheen on Friday showed a lot of heart in participating in their third tournament in as many weekends.

ABU DHABI // Emirati rugby seems to be either feast or famine, with little else in between. For years, aspiring rugby players from the indigenous community suffered from lack of exposure to the sport.

How times have changed. Friday, UAE Shaheen, a developmental side for Emirati players, competed in their third tournament in consecutive weekends.

It was fair to say they were flagging by the end of it, but they remained up for the fight until the final whistle blew on their fourth, 14-minute match in the space of a little over two hours at Zayed Sports City.

It is believed that at least two berths in the 12-man senior national squad playing in the Dubai Rugby Sevens have been reserved for UAE nationals.

Three Emiratis - Mohanned Shaker, Ali Mohammed and Cyrus Homayoun - played for the UAE XVs side in the Asian Five Nations earlier this year, and each was playing for the Shaheen - meaning "Falcons" - side Friday.

The emerging side lost each match in the Conference competition but retained a fighting spirit until the last, which was visible in their heated final encounter with the Stefan's British Heart Foundation charity side.

Such pluck will have encouraged Wayne Marsters, the UAE rugby manager, who is tasked with overseeing the development of the game among Arabs, in addition to his duties as sevens and XVs head coach.

"They struggled a little, but they are one of the few teams who have played three sevens tournaments in three weeks, with India last week and Jebel Ali before that," Marsters said.

"It was a big ask for them to do that, but they finished strongly.

"We talked about playing with lots of heart, but every game, not just every tournament, is a step up for these players."