x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Emirati Rahma defies medical advice to play rugby

One torn cruciate ligament, two damaged meniscuses, three years and four operations later, the 'Paperboy' wants to take the field with UAE flag on his chest.

Mohammad Rahma came back to the sport because he felt all right with his knee though he is still nervous making big steps.
Mohammad Rahma came back to the sport because he felt all right with his knee though he is still nervous making big steps.

One torn cruciate ligament, two damaged meniscuses, three years and four operations after becoming the first Emirati to play international representative rugby, Mohammed Hassan Rahma is back.

Having been told by his surgeon he should look for another sport, Rahma returned to the field for the first time last weekend, and played a lead role in the inaugural competitive victory for his new club, the Abu Dhabi Saracens.

News of his comeback has travelled fast. He says he has received a call and been asked to provide copies of his passport, ahead of a possible trip to Thailand with the UAE sevens team for the next leg of the Asian Sevens Series.

The past three years have told him to caution against making any assumptions. He is treading softly, but he is allowing himself to hope, at least.

"I would love to represent my country, to have the chance to raise the UAE flag and to have that flag on my chest," Rahma, 24, said.

"If I was selected to play, and get the chance to sing my national anthem it would be perfect.

"Playing internationally for the UAE is something I have really dreamed of doing since I started playing rugby. I would love to have that opportunity."

The Dubai-born wing was an integral part of the Arabian Gulf squad in the lead-up to the 2008 World Cup Sevens, and made a try-scoring international debut in a preparatory tournament in Singapore.

His hopes of playing in that showpiece event at The Sevens were extinguished at the last, however somewhat predictably, by injury.

He has barely played since, and made a sporting diversion when he thought his knee would forever preclude him from a return.

"I thought maybe rugby is not meant for me, so I took up surfing to keep fit," he said.

Having initially converted from being a football goalkeeper to take up the oval ball game, he always cut an unusual figure for a rugby player.

He was given the nickname "Paperboy" by his first team, the Dubai Falcons, on account of the fact, he says, his coach wanted him to deliver the ball to the try line. He was paper-thin, too.

"I'm still skinny, but I have more upper-body strength now with the surfing and swimming, which has given me a lot more confidence going back into the game," he said.

He now has a part share in a surf shop in Dubai, but his first love has beckoned him back.

He recently moved to Abu Dhabi, having joined Etihad Airline's graduate training management scheme.

Continuing the spirit of the change, he joined the capital's new club, Saracens, in pre-season, and has now assumed the role of first-choice place-kicker.

"He slotted in straight away," Brett Bowie, the Saracens captain, said. "I was very impressed when he arrived, mainly because he has a really good attitude.

"I really didn't realise how good he was until the last couple of weeks. He has serious gas - he can really run - but his kicking has also been a major bonus."

Buoyed by their maiden win over the Dubai Frogs on Friday, Saracens go into their UAE Conference meeting with the Dubai Wasps second-string this weekend on a high.

It will be a special occasion for Rahma.

Wasps have the largest contingent of Emirati players of any club, a number of whom first cut their teeth in the game in the same Dubai Falcons team of which Rahma was a founding player member in 2005.

Under the guidance of their coach, Trevor Leota, the former Samoan international, the novice Wasps players know all about how to tackle now.

The confrontation could be a daunting one for someone recently returned from such a long time out with injury, but he is just happy to be back.

"My knee felt all right so I decided, you know what, I'll go back and play," said Rahma, who was mentored by his rugby hero, Jason Robinson, during a week's training exchange at Sale Sharks in the UK in 2006.

"After so long out and not having played rugby for so long, I still feel a little unsure about the injury. I get nervous about making big steps, or big manoeuvres because I don't want to snap my knee again.

"That is the only thing holding me back, but at least I am back on that green pitch now."



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