Qatar step into unknown at Asian Five Nations rugby
DUBAI // Two-and-a-half weeks after the UAE kicked off their maiden HSBC Asian Five Nations campaign, Qatar will become the second Gulf nation to go it alone this evening.
Set up just over one month ago, their inaugural national team selection includes four Qatari novices, two players from Doha's Vets side, and an Abu Dhabi-born playmaker who could have been playing for the UAE in the top tier of the competition.
Paul Beard, Qatar's fly-half, has much linking him to international rugby in this country. By way of a sweetly struck drop goal from his own half of the field against Hong Kong, Beard scored the first points in the Arabian Gulf's maiden outing when the competition was set up in 2008.
He scored all of the Gulf's points in that opening 20-12 defeat against Hong Kong in Al Ain, and remained involved with the regional team all the way up until the side was disbanded at the end of last year.
He first learnt the rudiments of the game when he was aged six on the sand fields at the old Dubai Exiles, the club where he was a member until last year and where his father was a player before him.
However, despite all the factors tying him to the UAE, as well as the chance to play top-flight rugby, Beard has opted to represent Qatar in Division IV instead.
"One of the reasons for it is because Qatar is now where I call home," Beard, who will line-up at fly-half in the Division IV meeting with Jordan at The Sevens this evening, said.
"I want to do what I can over here and the plan Qatar have in place is something long term, which is an idea I really enjoyed.
"We already have a strong group of players, both Qatari nationals and expats who I play with at Doha Rugby Club. A lot more of the Doha players will qualify next year.
"We all believe we can progress from Division IV up to Division I, moving up every year, and it is something I really want to be a part of, to say that I helped develop [rugby in] a country.
"Don't get me wrong, I would love to play for the UAE, and I have spoken to Bruce [Birtwistle, the UAE coach] about it.
"But they are already there, and I want to be part of something that is growing.
"The UAE is growing at a much faster rate than we are, but in Qatar it is at grassroots level.
"For those of us who have played to a good level in the UK, or Australia, we can help it develop, and that is a really exciting challenge."
The pool of players from which Qatar had to choose from is shallow in comparison to the UAE.
Doha RFC are one of the leading clubs in the Gulf, having finished runners-up to the Dubai Hurricanes in West Asia this year, yet are alone in Qatar in playing competitive rugby.
Their squad includes a number of new expatriate players who have come to the region to work.
As such, many have yet to fit the International Rugby Board's three-year residency criteria to be eligible to represent a national team.
"We have a maximum eight to 10 players from the Doha first team who are available to us," Aaron Palmer, the New Zealander who is coaching Qatar, said.
"We are a one-club nation, we don't have the seven or eight clubs the UAE have to choose from.
"In saying that, the other guys who have come in have fitted into our patterns very well, especially the Qatari boys, and we are excited by what we have there. You will see a bit of pace from them.
"Everybody who turned up to training made it into the 24-man squad - it was uncanny that we only had 24 players enrol."
Updated: May 11, 2011 04:00 AM