x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Marsters eager to 'get stuck in' as UAE rugby coach

UAE's new national rugby team coach is excited about potential the youth in the Middle East have following the New Zealander's stints with Arabian Gulf and Iran.

DUBAI // Much has changed in the two and a half years it has been since Wayne Marsters officially stepped down from his role as the head coach of the Arabian Gulf union.

Back at the start of 2009, the New Zealander handed in his notice because of the uncertain future everyone involved in representative rugby in the region felt, due to the impending restructuring of the game here.

On his way out, he recommended the new administrators of the game employ a director of rugby to oversee a new, revamped development programme here.

In his typically amenable fashion, he said he would be happy to assist the new man in any way he could.

It is funny how things work out. After a stint coaching the Dubai Exiles and then a year abroad as the technical director of rugby in Iran, he is back in a position, that of UAE rugby manager, which will be crucial to advancing the game here, just as he proposed back then.

In his new role, he will facilitate the arrival of a new rugby supremo, as the Rugby Association is currently casting its net for a rugby performance manager.

"It is good to be back," Marsters said on his return this week. "We have some tough, tough challenges before the year's end, but I'm just keen to roll my sleeves up and get stuck in."

The landscape of the game has shifted since the Arabian Gulf metamorphosed into the UAE at the turn of this year.

The changing face is most marked in the make-up of the players. When Marsters oversaw the regional team's maiden Asian Five Nations campaign in 2008, there were no Arabic players in the senior squad. The only Emiratis who played at all back then were of a social standard, at best.

Now there are already three full Test players who are Emirati, Cyrus Homayoun, Ali Mohammed and Mohanned Shaker, and every UAE squad is supposed to include at least three indigenous players.

Transition rarely runs smooth. However, Marsters is encouraged to believe change can happen, thanks to his experiences in Iran, whose rugby resources were considerably more bare than that of the UAE when he arrived.

"The Iran experience gave me an insight into the huge player potential that there is throughout Asia," said Marsters, who was a personal trainer for Tana Umaga, the All Black great, in one of his former roles in the sport.

"There is 80 per cent of the world's youth in Asia - that is a lot of wingers and props. At the moment about 12 per cent of the world's rugby-playing population are in Asia.

"So now is a great time to raise awareness of rugby and promote the sport in the region - let's not forget the World Cup in Japan 2019 and the 2016 Olympics [in Rio de Janeiro, which will feature rugby sevens for the first time]."

Other than his hiatus in Iran, Marsters has been based in the UAE for the past decade, and he is fondly regarded by his former charges - many of who will come under his guidance again when he takes caretaker charge of the national team.

"I can never remember going to a training session that he was in charge of where we didn't know exactly what we were doing," David Vittes, the Dubai Exiles captain and UAE hooker, said. "Every session was very well structured." Mike Cox-Hill, the UAE captain, also played under Marsters at the Exiles. "It is good to have him back," the second-row forward said.

"He knows the region very well so will already have a good idea of the players and what is required to be successful."

pradley@thenational.ae


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