The director of rugby at the British School Al Khubairat says the LV Cup match needs to be a classic to help boost the profile of the sport in the UAE.
Jones hopes for expansive rugby from Wasps and Quins
ABU DHABI // Lyn Jones, the director of rugby at the British School Al Khubairat, expects this weekend’s landmark game between London Wasps and Harlequins in Abu Dhabi to help stimulate the growth of the game in the capital.
The two English domestic sides will play an LV Cup match on the lawns of the Emirates Palace hotel in front of an expected crowd of 5,000 on Sunday night in what will be the first time a British fixture will have been played outside the United Kingdom.
The fact Jones, who coached the likes of Wales internationals Gavin Henson, Shane Williams and James Hook during a five-year spell as head coach of Ospreys, swapped a role in 2009 as attack coach with the Newport Gwent Dragons for a position at the British School is an illustration of the increasing importance rugby is playing in the sporting calender and the school curriculum in Abu Dhabi.
Jones helped set up the Abu Dhabi Schools Cup which will culminate in the inaugural final at the Emirates Palace in March and the former Wales international believes Sunday’s game between the two London sides will help provide a further boost to game at grassroots level in the UAE.
“The game of rugby in Abu Dhabi is going through the roof,” Jones said. “The schools programme is really taking off and there are some good Emirati boys.
“The trouble is they don’t know how good they are. It is not in their culture and some of them don’t know exactly what the game is about but it’s growing.
“Dubai is the leader in terms of sheer numbers but the Quins [Abu Dhabi Harlequins] were champions here last year and we are closing the gap.
“I think this game on Sunday will re-emphasise what the game is about for the young boys. It will be a great day for the young boys and a great experience to see first hand exactly how physical and quick the professional game is.”
Jones feels it is important that the game between the two free-scoring and attractive sides is a high points-scoring affair if it is to appeal to the neutrals and stand a chance of being staged here again.
He feels the warm weather will be conducive to an expansive game.
“The temperature here will help,” Jones said. “The game at the top level is all about not making mistakes and the weather should mean the error count is minimal and lead to an open game.
“Playing in this environment enhances the skill set. The game in the northern hemisphere is traditionally played in wet weather so the conditions will come as a surprise to the players and should mean the time the ball is in play is increased by 15 per cent. It’s important the first game here is a classic. The first 20 or 30 minutes will be tight and the pure rugby fans will understand that, then it should open up.”
Although teams traditionally play second-string teams in the LV Cup, Jones appreciates the value of the competition having won it under its previous name as the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2008.
“It’s a high profile competition,” Jones said. “Neither side has nothing to lose. Quins are in a strong position in the group and so are Wasps. Quins play a good brand of rugby but then Wasps had a great win over Toulouse [in the Heineken Cup] at the weekend. I expect a close, exciting game but Quins just to nick it.”
He added: “It’s great that a game of rugby union is coming here, to the island. I’d heard a few whispers but it came as a surprise. I wasn’t sure if there was a market for it but people here know how to make things work and make things happen – Abu Dhabi is good at that.
“It should be a great occasion and it would be fantastic if it was an annual event. Whether it’s viable or not is another matter because I’m sure gate receipts would not cover the costs.”