x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Curtain comes down on the Arabian Gulf

Forty years of history came to a tearful terminus as the Arabian Gulf bade a final farewell to international rugby.

The Arabian Gulf players console each other after their final appearance together. 

Jaime Puebla / The National
The Arabian Gulf players console each other after their final appearance together. Jaime Puebla / The National

DUBAI // At just before 1pm yesterday, 40 years of history came to a tearful terminus as the Arabian Gulf bade a final farewell to international rugby.

The end was typical of so much of what had gone before, with the proud endeavour of 12 part-time rugby players ultimately going unrewarded in an unjust defeat against one of rugby's elite nations, France.

The home side dominated the majority of the game, and twice held a two-try advantage, only to subside to a 26-19 loss via two late scores in the Shield semi-final.

Defeat was heart-wrenching for Sean Hurley, the longest-serving player, who has done so much to make his side competitive at this level. Aside from the merits of his versatile play - he is equally adept at hooker and scrum-half - he has been the side's chief fund-raiser, all while holding down a full-time job.

"I have put my heart and soul into this," Hurley said as he choked back tears. "It is the end of an era.

"I don't think you will see me run out at the Sevens again, but I hope I can stay involved to take rugby in the UAE forward."

The Gulf's membership of the IRB will now be taken on by a newly formed UAE side, yet it is still not known whether they will compete at the next edition of the Sevens.

"We know there has been 40 years of amazingly good history here, and the reason we are emotional is because we left everything out there," Jonny MacDonald, the Gulf playmaker, said.

"I have never played in a team with a spirit like that before. There is no way any other side in this competition has a spirit as strong as us. We were willing to die for each other."

The future should be bright: two of the Gulf's tries against the French, were scored by gifted young students, MacDonald and James Love.

However, with the Gulf side now set to disband as part of a root-and-branch revamp of West Asian rugby, many of the players will be lost to the international game.

Given the uncertainty, and the limited chances available to players here, Gulf bosses sought out their counterparts with the Scotland side here this weekend to recommend MacDonald to them.

The Abu Dhabi-born playmaker qualifies to play for them on account of his Scottish father, and the step up to regular IRB competition would be fitting for a player of his talent.

"We don't want to lose him, but that is where he needs to be," Shane Thornton, the Gulf coach, said. "He needs to step up to the big league. He would get more chances over there, would be playing with international players, and as we have seen over here, he is a class act."