x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Children will benefit from seeing top rugby players in Abu Dhabi

Officials say impact of game at Emirates Palace hotel on aspiring Arab players could have been far greater had the Rugby Association being involved.

ABU DHABI // Despite being the main drivers of this fixture, and the nominal home team, the London Wasps players might have to cede the popularity stakes to Harlequins tomorrow.

The capital has become Quins' patch since they signed up the city's rugby team, then known as the Abu Dhabi Bats, as an affiliate club three years ago.

As part of their association with the club, with whom they share Etihad as a sponsor, players from Quins have often travelled to the capital for coaching classes in the past.

Now the youth team players will get the chance to see the likes of Will Skinner and Jordan Turner-Hall, both of whom have conducted rugby clinics here, playing in the flesh.

"The experience they will get from seeing the professionals in person playing the game properly will give them something to look up to," Graham Murphy, the master in charge of rugby at Cambridge School in Abu Dhabi, said.

The rugby-playing pupils at Cambridge are almost all from nationalities beyond the sport's traditional territories.

They will only benefit from the chance to watch a competitive professional match, according to Murphy.

"We have players who are Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, players from all over," he said. "They are so enthusiastic about playing the game even though they haven't seen it played before. We see the Six Nations played on our TV, but it is not on normal television out here so they struggle to get the chance to watch it."

The price of admission could be an impediment to those who are new to the game, however, according to Saood Belshalat, a board member of the Rugby Association.

The Dh200 price of a seat is more than it costs to watch the Friday of the Dubai Rugby Sevens weekend. While it is Dh100 to stand, the prices could put off newcomers to the game who are used to watching Pro League football matches for free.

"If they wanted to attract locals, perhaps they should have made it free," said Belshalat. "They would be more likely to check it out than if they had to pay Dh100."

The Rugby Association fear the effect of tomorrow's match at the Emirates Palace hotel on the arabic-speaking sports community will be negligible.

The Dubai-based governing body say the brief time-frame in which the fixture was organised made it difficult for them to build up the type of relationships with the clubs that might have encouraged a greater interest among Emiratis.

"We are happy to have them over," Ghaith Jalajel, the rugby development officer for the new governing body here, said.

"We are hoping this won't be the last event of this type and we hope sides will come down here to play in the future.

"The rugby community are keen on having such a high-level game being played here, but at the UAERA we are a little disappointed no-one got in touch with us.

"We hoped that having some high profile teams here in the UAE we would be able to do some coaching seminars or schools clinics.

"We are going to have a presence at the game as a governing body, but I doubt there will be much local [Emirati] interest in the game."