x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Emirates Palace is ready to stage Wasps and Quins match

Well before the 7.15pm kick-off time, that iconic building will be lit up in all its glory to give a surreal glow to a match that would otherwise been fought out at a chilly Adams Park in England.

Workers put the finishing touches to the impressive rugby stadium emerging in the grounds of the plush Emirates Palace hotel.
Workers put the finishing touches to the impressive rugby stadium emerging in the grounds of the plush Emirates Palace hotel.

ABU DHABI // Dave Walder and Nick Evans, the likely goalkickers for London Wasps and Harlequins in Sunday evening's match in Abu Dhabi, can be forgiven for pausing longer than normal as they go through their tried-and-trusted routines for converting tries or slotting over penalties.

Rarely will there be a better moment for a snap for the family album or the video library.

From certain kicking positions during the clash between two of England's most famous rugby union clubs, the backdrop for the Sky Sports cameras and the photographers will be the impressive Emirates Palace hotel.

Well before the 7.15pm kick-off time, that iconic building will be lit up in all its glory to give what promises to be a surreal glow to a match that would, in normal circumstances, be fought out at a chilly Adams Park, 50 kilometres to the north of London.

Hans Olbertz, the German general manager of the Emirates Palace, is proud to be hosting the ground-breaking fixture - an LV Cup match which has been moved by Wasps to warmer climes with the full co-operation of their London neighbours.

"I hope this is the first of many," Olbertz said as he showed off the hastily constructed 2,500-seater stand along one of the four sides of the pristine rugby pitch which will accommodate half of the expected crowd of 5,000.

The playing area has been adapted from a pitch created for Manchester City when the Premier League club went into UAE ownership. The grass has been allowed to grow from its football length to provide the lushest of surfaces for the visiting rugby players and it earned rave reviews from the Wasps party on checking into their temporary home.

Steve Hayes, the club's owner, enthused that "these boys will never play on a pitch of better quality than this".

Tony Hanks, the director of rugby, and Trevor Woodman, the Wasps' forwards coach, concurred as they made a brief inspection of the brand new pitch yesterday afternoon.

By Sunday, two of the floodlight pylons which have helped to make Yas Marina Circuit a splendid Formula One venue will have been transported in to enhance the television pictures and there will be four food and beverage outlets strategically placed for the benefit of the paying supporters, many flying in from England.

During yesterday's Wasps tour, the finishing touches were being put to the temporary dressing rooms behind the stand and the deeper-than-normal holes for the goalposts were being dug out, but all preparations are at least a day ahead of schedule according to Olbertz.

That is a remarkable observation considering the green light to stage the fixture was given only as recently as January 2.

"We had discussions before that," Olbertz said, referring to his meetings with the match's other backers - Etihad Airways and Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority - "but all the work has been carried out this month.

"We sat down and decided who was in charge of what - and here we are. And I think we've done pretty well. People who have come by have just said 'wow!' after they have seen it. Even I didn't expect it to look as grand as it does."

"While everybody was at the [European Tour] golf last week, a smart new grandstand has appeared here. I think it is brilliant and I have been overwhelmed by what's happening.

"I like the stand they've built and I would love to keep it here, but that is something else we will have to talk about."

Olbertz is used to hosting sports visitors - the Lashings cricket team have used the venue for annual visits, and referees and linesman at the recent Fifa Club World Cup used the facilities for training. The Emirates Palace general manager is eagerly awaiting the kick off on Sunday.

"This is not just to the benefit of Emirates Palace, though," he said. "This is something for the whole community.

"We know that spectators are coming from all parts of the Gulf region to see this because it is an official game, not an exhibition or a friendly match."

wjohnson@thenational.ae

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