x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Leota to the fore for Toa Dubai in rout

Riyadh's inside-centre obviously did not get the memo. "What is the point of travelling all the way from Riyadh if we are going to tackle like this?"

Riyadh, left, and Toa Dubai pack down for a one-sided scrummaging battle on Thursday night.
Riyadh, left, and Toa Dubai pack down for a one-sided scrummaging battle on Thursday night.

DUBAI // Riyadh's inside-centre obviously did not get the memo. "What is the point of travelling all the way from Riyadh if we are going to tackle like this?" he raged at his shell-shocked colleagues, after Toa Dubai rumbled over for their umpteenth try on Thursday night. Here is a tip: get the team bus and park it in front of the try-line. It might have plugged some of the leaks, but even then the tourists would have struggled to halt the onslaught.

Resistance against the red tide was futile. When the Sri Lankan referee eventually took mercy on Riyadh, the Gulf's newest club had set the seal on an 88-0 victory. Not bad for their first attempt. "The best thing we can take out of the game is that it was confidence building for the young guys," said Toa's captain, John Mamea-Wilson. "We have told them to enjoy it, but not to think they are now any better than they were at training. They were rubbish at training."

There was a sense of foreboding among the visiting ranks even before the start, when their waif-like winger glanced across the field to see the colossal Trevor Leota, who was once labelled the world's best hooker, gamely leading Toa's energetic warm-up. "Don't worry about them, just concentrate our game," he was advised by one of his more experienced teammates. Easier said than done when the opposition look like a collection of Easter Island statues, just a little bit harder.

For the most part, Leota was able to stroll through the game, busying himself instead with giving tips to some of the emerging Arab players who were also part of the Toa pack. It is what he is paid to do, after all. Leota has been recruited as the scrum coach at the Elite Sporting Academy, based at nearby Repton School, which supplies a number of young players to the Toa side. Only once did Leota really get the chance to stretch his legs, when Riyadh gave a demonstration in precisely what not to do from a restart.

The kick was hoisted straight into the arms of the on-rushing colossus, and his would-be tacklers, who had been reticent at best until then, were suddenly non-existent. He passed the ball on out of pity rather than necessity, and Toa had another try under the posts, merely seconds after their previous score. Significantly, Toa pitched a group of Emirati players into 15-man action for the first time.

The pack, for instance, pitted the promising young Emirati prop Dumble Mohammad Abdullah alongside a Lebanese expatriate, Sol Mokdad, with Leota at hooker. The UAE nationals revelled in the experience with Walid Salm, a 23-year-old convert from football, and Mohammad Shakar both touching down tries. "From the first minute I was very nervous", said Shakar after his try-scoring introduction to the 15-a-side game.

"Trevor was encouraging us from the start, telling us not to be nervous, to enjoy the game and play it from our hearts. "I actually thought it would be far more difficult playing this game than sevens, but with all the experienced players around us it made it easy. "When I scored my try in the corner in the second-half I thought, 'Finally, I've done it'. "We have been playing sevens and 10s for quite a while now, and we all still want to do that as well. Perhaps now we will start to concentrate on 15s."

pradley@thenational.ae