x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Rookie Reyal looks to excel

Sri Lankan IT consultant is a big hope for UAE at Dubai Rugby Sevens.

Imad Reyal, left, will play for the UAe at the Dubai Sevens.
Imad Reyal, left, will play for the UAe at the Dubai Sevens.

DUBAI // The elite nations of the World Sevens Series benefit from all the modern conveniences. Some of the coaches employ GPS tracking systems to monitor the performances of their professional players in training, while others use iPad chalkboards to explain their gameplan.

The rest, however, have to be content with gathering crumbs from under the rich man's table. With no centrally contracted players, or professionals of any sort, the UAE are pinning some of their hopes for this weekend on a Sri Lankan IT consultant from Deira.

Most people have some idea of what they are getting themselves into when they play the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

However, Imad Reyal, one of the new recruits in the UAE squad, has never been to the tournament. He initially secured a residence visa when his father moved to work in Dubai four years ago, but has only been playing domestic rugby seriously for a few months.

He only happened on national team selection when some of his teammates at Dubai Exiles encouraged him to tag along with them for training.

"A couple of boys who played for the UAE told me to come along for training, so I went a couple of times, and ended up getting selected," Reyal said.

The diminutive scrum-half's pedigree may be humble, but Wayne Marsters, the UAE, believes he might have just uncovered a previously well hidden gem.

Although Reyal plays for the Exiles club which of which Marsters was in before he left to become the technical director of Iran, the national team boss did not know him until recently.

He saw a spark of inspiration on his first day in his new role as the UAE's rugby manager, when Reyal scored a solo try for the Exiles at Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

Marsters handed him a debut for the Goa leg of the Asian Sevens Series, and Reyal repaid the faith with three fine tries.

"I think with a bit of space and time on the ball, even against the big sides, I think he can surprise," Marsters said. "He has an ability to change direction at pace, which not many guys can do.

"Lots of guys are fast, and lots of guys can step, but very few can do them both at the same time."

Reyal, who turned 20 last month, grew up in Kandy, the Sri Lankan hill town. After playing cricket in his youth, and excelling as a schoolboy sprinter, he bucked the prevailing trend in the island nation by opting for rugby over cricket.

"Rugby is not very big in Sri Lanka, not as big as cricket," he said.

"When I started my higher studies, I dropped cricket as I only wanted to play rugby. I gave up everything else, because I had rugby training in the morning, then again in the evening. It was all rugby."

pradley@thenational.ae