x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Cullen to play for Toa in Sharjah

Sharjah Wanderers will play host to one of the game's all-time greatest try-scorers as well as 25 teams vying for silverware in three separate competitions.

DUBAI // As recently as seven years ago, the best rugby teams in the Gulf refused to play at the Sharjah Tens on the basis that the long-running competition was still played on sand. How times have changed. Today, Sharjah Wanderers will play host to one of the game's all-time greatest try-scorers, the former New Zealand full-back Christian Cullen, as well as 25 teams vying for silverware in three separate competitions.

Cullen is set to make a guest appearance for Transguard Toa Dubai, the Emirates League club, four years after hanging up his boots on a career which brought him 46 tries in 53 Test matches for the All Blacks. That followed a distinguished spell in the abridged version of the game, when he first earned international recognition as part of Gordon Tietjens's all-conquering sevens side. So speedy was Cullen during his sevens playing days that he regularly used to earn fines for referees. Back then, IRB Sevens officials had to be at least within the 22-yard line when a try was awarded, but few could even get that close to him, and so were fined by the game's authorities.

David Bass, the chairman of Sharjah Wanderers, said: "Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the main centres for rugby now, and the northern Emirates and ourselves sometimes get left behind, so it is nice to show we can still put on tournaments like this. "It is great to have players like [Toa's regular hooker and former Wasps player] Trevor Leota and Christian Cullen playing to help raise the profile of the tournament."

John Mamea-Wilson, the Toa captain, said: "I invited Christian to play for us to help promote our side and our ambitions of developing rugby among the minor demographics, especially Emirati." @Email:pradley@thenational.ae