x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

James Love: Young Gulf star will be big loss for region

Despite growing up in what is a relative rugby backwater, he has credible aspirations of playing the game professionally in England.

James Love's Dubai Sevens appearance this weekend is likely to be a farewell. 
Pawan Singh / The National
James Love's Dubai Sevens appearance this weekend is likely to be a farewell. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // This weekend will present the final opportunity on the international stage for a player born and raised in the Gulf to advertise his talent to potential employers.

James Love, the Arabian Gulf winger, first learned to play the game as part of the junior section at Bahrain, where he was born.

Despite growing up in what is a relative rugby backwater, he has credible aspirations of playing the game professionally in England.

"James has grown into a great player," Shane Thornton, the Gulf sevens coach, said. "As you push through, you strive to be a professional player. He has all the attributes to go all the way, and it is up to him how far he goes.

"If he gets picked up and put in the right position at the right time, he could go all the way."

Love is studying sports coaching at Hartpury College in the UK, which has a semi-formal arrangement as a feeder side for Gloucester, the English Premiership club.

In September, Love played 10 minutes as a replacement for Gloucester's second string against Harlequins A in the Premiership A League, alongside international players like Leslie Vainikolo and Akapusi Qera.

Even though it was merely a late cameo, it was enough time for him to score a try, and bolster his belief that he could play at the professional level.

"I didn't feel out of place, I felt comfortable and I scored a try," Love, 23, said. "When I finish my final module this year I will make a rugby CV and I'm hoping to get a contract at Championship level."

Whatever his future employment status will be, this weekend is almost certain to be the final time he plays international rugby in this region.

Tomorrow will be the last time the Gulf play together as a side, before their IRB membership is taken over by the UAE from January.

Love will be ineligible to play for the UAE, and Bahrain are unlikely to be ready to field a side in international competition for some years yet.

As one of the outstanding young players in the region, his loss will be keenly felt, especially given how much has been invested in him.

The Gulf have spent much of their modest budget on flying the likes of Love, Jonny MacDonald and Taif al Delamie back from England, Wales and Ireland to play and train for the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

"It has been awesome of the Gulf to fly us back and keep us involved," Love said. "It was good for us to play at the Gold Coast [sevens, a preparatory tournament three weeks ago] and we are feeling good for [today]."

pradley@thenational.ae