x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Emiratis get their taste of the big time

Emiratis Cyrus Homayoun and Ali Mohammed become the first UAE nationals to step on the pitch and play for the national rugby team.

ABU DHABI // The final seconds of last night's Asian Five Nations match at Zayed Sports City were a case of all hands to the pump, and the UAE's two inexperienced Emirati players were only too happy to lend a hand to the victory push.

After Kazakhstan scored their second try with just moments left, Bruce Birtwistle, the UAE coach, cleared his bench.

The New Zealander had Ali Mohammed and Mohannad Shaker, the versatile prop, on the bench against Sri Lanka last week but he was, with some justification, apprehensive about throwing them on with the game in Colombo so finely poisted at 13-13.

But last night, Cyrus Homayoun and Ali, two wingers, were able to share the honour of becoming the first UAE nationals to play Test match rugby as they both ran on together.

Within 30 seconds each had made important tackles. Homayoun caromed into the Kazakh player who received the restart kick, and Mohammed played a key part in extinguishing the danger from the subsequent clearance kick.

The fact that Homayoun's former school, Dubai College, were playing in a curtain-raiser before the main event was an indicator of just how far he has come.

This time he had a close-up view of a Test match of vicious intensity before being thrown into the bullring himself.

"I had goosebumps the whole game, wanting to get on," Homayoun, who was playing his first game back after a hamstring injury, said.

"As soon as the call went up at the restart I knew it had to be me, and it felt good to make that tackle. It was a really good win for us."

Birtwistle said of his decision to summon the Emiratis for the final effort: "We had to do it - this is their team.

We have talked about a brotherhood in rugby here the past, but now we can really talk about a UAE brotherhood in rugby."