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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 February 2019

‘Our dream has come true’: First televised matches bring UAE rugby closer to fans and community

DUBAI // The last day of the domestic season was a day of firsts for UAE rugby.

Chief among them must have been the moment someone in a kandura entered a room and asked for the TV channel to be changed from the Super Rugby to the UAE Community League. That cannot have happened before.

Beauden Barrett and his Hurricanes were putting on a show against the Waratahs on OSN at the time, but the broadcast over on Dubai Sports 1 was of far more pressing local concern.

The programme was changed just in time to see Matthew Nesbitt, the Jebel Ali Dragons’ third XV winger, dotting down in the corner against Abu Dhabi Harlequins Barbarians.

It was the first televised try in the history of domestic rugby, giving his side a 5-0 lead in the third-tier final, the first match of the first UAE Rugby Finals Day.

Sat in the restaurant area of the main stand at Rugby Park at Dubai Sports City, young female Emirati players were watching on, recording the action on their phones for pointers.

If they missed any of the play, they could watch it back straight away on the 55-square-foot big screen, mounted on the top of a truck, parked beside the pitch.

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Many of the 132 players in action across three televised matches had set their digiboxes to record themselves in action. The referees were mic’d up.

UAE Rugby Federation staff were co-opted into the outdoor broadcast truck to help provide statistics for graphics on the live transmission. Hundreds were there to watch.

It was a remarkable scene. All of which added up to quite an achievement, given the idea to try to broadcast the event was only seriously floated at a board meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

Ibrahim Buhamer, a UAERF board member, said he would get it sorted. He leant on his friendship with the CEO of LiveHD to make it happen, and the result was the most memorable day in the short history of the federation.

“It was one of our dreams to broadcast our finals day on the TV, and our dream has come true,” Buhamer said.

“We are very happy because this will boost our relations with our sponsors, the community, social media, and also with the teams.”

For LiveHD, the outside broadcast producer, UAE rugby was a new addition to an oeuvre that already included everything from professional football, falconry, camel racing to dhow racing.

“We have probably the newest equipment in the market, broadcasting rugby for the first time using stuff like super slow-motion, and hyper motion cameras,” said Malek Doughan, LiveHD’s head of business development.

“That is stuff that has not been used before because the target audience of rugby internally wasn’t that high, so there wasn’t much budgeted for it.

“But now, with the help of the league, we are trying to elevate the quality of the broadcast to what Live is usually doing in the UAE.”

Where 18 to 20 cameras would be used for big Arabian Gulf League fixtures, just eight were in use at Rugby Park.

Airing the referees comments live, via a portable lapel microphone, is standard practice on major television productions of the sport.

And, although it is unusual among the other sports LiveHD regularly cover in this country, Doughan said the ref’s mic is only one of a variety of features that could be implemented in future.

“We could introduce drones, and really flex our muscles on this, but at a later stage hopefully,” Doughan said. “This is our first step towards taking a bigger role in rugby productions in the UAE.”

Dragons won the third-tier Community League final. By the time of the second match, the Conference final between Harlequins’ second-string and Al Ain Amblers, the live transmission had switched from Dubai Sports 1 to 3 to make way for Chinese Super League football.

To further complicate matters for the schedulers, the programme was thrown out of kilter by the fact the game went to extra time.

Tied at 26-all at full time, Harlequins took the Conference title when Kent Watene touched down a sudden-death try from a close-range scrum.

“We felt like a big deal,” Watene said. “With the big occasion, I think both teams rose to it. With such a dominant scrum, you are still nervous as the guy at the back. All I had to do was pick it up and flop over.

“As a country, we are still developing as a rugby base, but look at all these people here. There are three varying levels, all getting good support. It is a massive, massive day.”

That was a sentiment echoed by the federation who put on the show.

“This broadcast happened at short notice, but I hope our strategic relationship with Live will be longer, and for other finals that will be hosted by UAE,” Buhamer said.

“The [operations director, Fernanda Resende] has experience of rugby in Portugal, but this is the first time we have had it in the UAE.

“We are happy with the outcome. It is fantastic. If we can broadcast more matches in the future, it will give these guys more experience, and hopefully we can develop together.”

pradley@thenational.ae

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Updated: April 7, 2017 04:00 AM

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