x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Historic selection for Rahma

Mohammed Hassan Rahma is set to make history by becoming the first ever Emirati player to represent the Arabian Gulf at international level.

Mohammed Hassan Rahma is set to make history by becoming the first ever Emirati player to represent the Arabian Gulf at international level. The Dubai-based winger has been named in the Global Process Systems Arabian Gulf Sevens squad for the Singapore Sevens at the start of next month.

Rahma's call-up represents a landmark in the Arabian Gulf Rugby Football Union's (AGRFU) bid to spread the game among native arabs. Rugby has been established in the UAE for well over 30 years, yet it has been mainly the preserve of expats from the game's traditional powers, such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, plus the UK and France. The region's representative and domestic game are still awash with expats, but the AGRFU have shown a desire to spread the game to nationals.

In 2006 they appointed their first Arabic-speaking rugby development officer, the Jordanian international hooker Ghaith Jalagel. "To have an Emirati representing the Gulf in sevens is abso- lutely fantastic," he said. "This team will be playing in the IRB Sevens World Cup next March as well, so playing in that would be quite an achievement for him. "Hopefully it will attract more of his compatriots to play. When they see that one of their guys has got a real opportunity to play in a World Cup, that should be enough to attract new people."

Arab players, such as the Jordanian prop Charbel Kordahi, have played for the Gulf in the 15-man game before, but Rahma is the first player from the UAE to pull on the shirt. Rahma initially learned the game playing for the UAE Falcons, who became the first Emirati side to play at the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens in 2005. In 2006, he and his Falcons teammate Badir Fikree were sent to England for an intensive training camp with the Guinness Premiership club Sale Sharks.

Following the week-long clinic, Rahma proudly bragged "[the England World Cup winner] Jason Robinson is now my best friend." He has since started his own club, again exclusively for UAE passport holders, called the Dubai Rugby Club, and is also part of the Dubai Exiles squad. He took his first steps onto the international scene for the Gulf in an unofficial friendly competition against Kazakhstan and Hong Kong in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah last month.

The Gulf coach Mike Lunjevich said: "Mohammed is our most improved player. In terms of speed and agility he is second to none. He may be edged in some of the physical aspects, and obviously in terms of experience, by the guys who have been playing all their lives, but he makes up for that with his skills. Lunjevich has bolstered the arab presence in his squad further by handing a recall to Taif al Delamie, an Omani who currently lives in Ireland, following a long-term injury.

pradley@thenational.ae