x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rugby League Cup: Al Ain Amblers ground a fitting stage

Al Ain Amblers ready for another bid day to cap a season of triumph as the club has become a 'success story' in the 15-man code with its large membership and showcase grounds.

The Al Ain Amblers Rugby Club has proved itself capable of hosting big events such as when the UAE, in black, hosted South Korea, in white, for an Asian Five Nations match.
The Al Ain Amblers Rugby Club has proved itself capable of hosting big events such as when the UAE, in black, hosted South Korea, in white, for an Asian Five Nations match.

Al Ain Amblers may be out of the running for the main prize in Friday's Rugby League Cup final at their Palm Sports Resort home in the Garden City.

However, the host club will be afforded another chance to show that, when it comes to staging the sort of festival days on which club rugby thrives, nobody does it better.

Sol Mokdad, the chief executive of the Rugby League Commission, hopes the final between Mana Dubai and Abu Dhabi Harlequins will be watched by the biggest crowd ever for a domestic rugby match in this country.

Such records are not formally kept, but the attendance is still likely to be appreciable for the finale of the first domestic competition in the 13-man code. Judged by the experience of a triumphant year in Al Ain, the host club will be able to cope with the demand.

This will be the third major men's event the Amblers have staged this season, following their annual leg of the UAE Sevens Series and the Test match between UAE and South Korea.

The club now has around 2,000 members and generates millions of dirhams in food and beverage sales for their landlord each season. The rugby club accounts for more takings than the equestrian, golf and shooting clubs, who share their same plot, combined.

The health of the club marks a significant turnaround from the 2011/12 season. Back then, the first XV were regularly struggling to meet their playing commitments.

The club was also reeling from having been forced to cancel a high-profile friendly fixture involving the champions of England, Saracens, and their Fijian equivalents, Nadroga Stallions.

"Our egos might be a bit battered, but if we continued going down the road we were potentially heading down, we would have lost our club," Kit Philp, the club's then-chairman, said at the time.

The hard times were a reminder that clubs in this country are beholden to the transience of the population supporting them.

Despite the upwards curve they have been on this time around, they are unlikely to lobby for a rushed return to top-tier rugby, and again may only enter one team in regular competition next season.

"It is sustainable because, even though we do have the dips and fluctuations, it is never across the board," said Jody Haddow, the club captain. "We have had a two- or three-year decline in the adult men's team in terms of the number of skilled players.

"Every once in a while, an individual team may suffer because of the fluctuation in expats going through Al Ain, but the club as a whole can cope because we have such a big membership."

The Amblers, who have an Arabic-speaking rugby development officer, are regarded as one of the success stories in growing the sport by the administrators of the 15-man code.

"Al Ain rugby club is a strong social and community centre in the city," said Ian Bremner, the chief executive of the UAE Rugby Federation. "Al Ain as a club pray every September that there will be teachers, medical and Army personnel coming in to make viable numbers. By turning their attention towards the local population, they are looking at a much more sustainable model for years to come."

 

pradley@thenational.ae

 

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