Rugby union: RAK Goats hope new, sand pitch will give the club a distinct advantage
RAS AL KHAIMAH // The lowest-placed side in domestic rugby last season hope to have a significant home advantage this time around, after bulldozers finally broke ground on their sand pitch this week.
RAK Goats will be the only team in the UAE to play their home matches on sand, when work is complete at their ground on the shores of the Arabian Gulf.
Staff from the Government of Ras Al Khaimah Waste Management Authority have manned two bulldozers to excavate the top surface from the plot at the Bin Majid Beach Resort.
Starting at 5.30am, they have spent the past three days scraping away the surface to determine a firm and level baselayer, with a further level of sand set to be reapplied before rugby can be played there.
World Rugby’s regulations on pitches state the “surface should be grass but may also be sand, clay, snow or artificial grass”, so long as it is safe to play on.
The Goats aim to have the pitch ready for training on in two weeks’ time, and to play home matches there, starting with a friendly on September 9.
Having survived to date with a small player base, they hope that having a ground to call home will have a transformative effect on their club.
“There has been rugby played in Ras Al Khaimah since 1969, and the Goats brand started in 1981,” said Mike Silvester, the club chairman.
“The club has stopped and started, and we resurrected the team in 2013, turning up to the Sharjah 10s with one ball and no kit.
“We borrowed their kit, turned it inside out, and won the plate – so we thought we would carry on. We have always wanted a pitch, and we are lucky to have this one at Bin Majid Beach Resort.”
While many of the UAE’s leading clubs have agreements in place with major corporations, including subsidised air travel with national airlines, the Goats have had to be resourceful with their dealmaking.
Their goalposts are pipes from the yard of BAM International, an engineering company. A refit of their rudimentary floodlights was carried out by APT Global, a marine services company.
They also plan to build their own roller-come-rake to attach to a player’s 4x4, in order to flatten the pitch ready for matches.
James Parker, the Goats player-coach, is one of the few remaining players in the domestic game to have played regularly on sand in the past.
He grew up in Sharjah, and played at the Wanderers before it was resurfaced with grass. “It is just like any other pitch, but a bit tougher on your knees and ankles, and a bit gritty,” Parker said.
“It will be a challenge for teams coming and playing against us. It was always a fun weekend when I was growing up in Sharjah, and it will be the same again here in the future.”
Each of the longest established clubs in the Emirates first played rugby on sand pitches, and the Dubai Rugby Sevens was played on that surface until 1995.
“We are the only club in the UAE to be taking it back to where it all began,” said Bill Howells, a centre for the Goats.
“Hopefully it will help establish rugby in RAK, where locals and expats can see we are bringing it back to where rugby started here.
“I think it will give us a home advantage, because the scrums will be completely different so our forwards will have that advantage. I’m looking forward to seeing what type of advantage we get.”
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Updated: August 17, 2016 04:00 AM