x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Expatriates find 'honour' to play for the UAE

It is likely to be sometime yet before UAE nationals take ownership of the rugby team bearing their country's name.

ABU DHABI // While the UAE's rugby bosses find ways to mine a previously unseen vein of Emirati talent, the national team's expatriate players say they feel honoured by the opportunity to represent their adopted country.

Bruce Birtwistle, the UAE coach, threw two young Emirati newcomers to the Kazakh wolves late in the Asian Five Nations game on Friday night.

"We had to do it; it is their team," he said, adding that he was proud at the dual achievements of a first UAE win and the first Emirati participation at Test level.

However, it is likely to be sometime yet before UAE nationals take ownership of the rugby team bearing their country's name.

They may be keeping the shirts warm until the Arab rugby revolution arrives.

But the players who have come to the region to work and ended up playing international rugby under the UAE flag are proud to do so.

After he rumbled over for a try against Kazakahstan, Mike Riley, the prop who led his side's outstanding forward effort, pointed to the emblem on his new red UAE jersey with obvious pride.

The Canadian expatriate played for years in the front-row for the Arabian Gulf, but he says the chance to represent the UAE, rather than an anomalous group of countries, is a "privilege".

"You can't take this shirt for granted," Riley said. "It is a great opportunity to represent the country and to be part of this brotherhood.

"Being involved with the Arabian Gulf was really special, but this is the first time we have been able to represent a country.

"My wife was actually born here. I have lived here about 14 years and spent a lot of my childhood here.

"Half my life I have spent in the UAE and the Emirates means a lot to me. It is an honour and a privilege to get this win."