x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Dubai schoolboy Yates hoping to make waves in Premiership

England-bound for trials but Toa's loose-forward only considered sport as a career option last year.

Duncan Yates, left, who lived up to the age of 11 in South Africa before moving to Dubai, plays his rugby for Toa in the Emirates League.
Duncan Yates, left, who lived up to the age of 11 in South Africa before moving to Dubai, plays his rugby for Toa in the Emirates League.

DUBAI // A Dubai schoolboy who has been playing in the second-tier of the Arabian Gulf competition has been handed trials by three of English rugby's biggest clubs. Duncan Yates, a pupil at Wellington International School, Dubai, is currently in the UK, where London Wasps, Northampton Saints and Sale Sharks will run the rule over his abilities.

The loose-forward was born in Johannesburg and lived in South Africa until he was 11, before moving to Dubai, where he now plays his rugby for Toa in the Emirates League. Rather than facing the social players on the fields of the UAE, Yates now will go up against professional players from the ranks of the Guinness Premiership during trial matches this week, starting with Wasps. Yates, 17, whose father played provincial rugby as a prop in South Africa, said: "When I first found out I will be playing for Wasps A, it was intimidating, but I spoke to my dad about it and now I just want to go in there and play.

"No matter how good they are, I will just play my best and hopefully I can step up. My game is not going to change, I will just try my best. "It is all about gauging myself. In Dubai I can't really gauge myself because the standard is not that great, so I just want to do that here, and see how good I actually am." If Yates does impress and is offered terms by any of the clubs, he will be faced with a dilemma.

He is planning to take a business studies degree at university, ideally in Sydney, once his International Baccalaureate studies are completed in the UAE. He only started to consider the possibility of rugby as a career when Apollo Perelini, the head of rugby at the Transguard Elite Sporting Academy (Tesa) in Dubai, suggested he join Toa last year. Up until then, his claim to sporting fame was as a junior swimming prodigy when his family briefly left Dubai and relocated to Turkey.

He added: "When we left Turkey, I was swimming seriously, but I wasn't really enjoying it. When I knew we were coming back to Dubai I knew there were options to pick up rugby again. "I knew it wasn't that big here, but I really enjoyed the training and wanted to play it again. Then Apollo came to my school and invited a few of us to join his club. "Only when I joined [Toa] did I start thinking I could do this as a career. Since then it has been going really well for me."

Toa were so keen to fast-track the teenage flanker, they incurred a five-point Emirates League penalty after beating Al Ain Amblers earlier this season. Unbeknown to Toa at the time, the union required a note from parents when players under 18 play in an adult competition. John Mamea-Wilson, the captain of Toa, said: "When he came to us he had been playing on the wing, but we took one look at him and told him he belonged in the forwards. Credit to him, he learned very fast how to play in the back row, and he has probably been our best player this year.

"I think he is the pick of the players in Dubai. I definitely think he is good enough to play Super 14 rugby in South Africa." Mamea-Wilson, a former Samoa international, has already been in touch with Carlos Spencer, the former All Blacks fly-half who now plays for the Golden Lions. Spencer's Johannesburg-based Super rugby franchise are also likely to be keen to assess the talents of Yates. Greg Campbell, the master in charge of rugby at Wellington said: "It is one of the pleasures of the job to see one of your own go through and reach the top of their game."

He added: "His biggest asset is his desire to achieve. His work ethic on the pitch and at training is huge." pradley@thenational.ae