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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

All change at RAK Rugby as club swaps sand pitch for grass

With membership numbers on the rise club have taken the decision to leave their home at Bin Majid Beach Resort and move to Tower Links Golf Club

Craig Chapman, left, coaching RAK Rugby players at Tower Links Golf Club in Ras Al Khamiah. Christopher Pike / The National
Craig Chapman, left, coaching RAK Rugby players at Tower Links Golf Club in Ras Al Khamiah. Christopher Pike / The National

Rugby in Ras Al Khaimah is growing. So much so, the city’s club feel they have outgrown the sand pitch they called home during their opening campaign in the UAE Community League after just one season.

Their ground next to the sea at the Bin Majid Beach Resort did so much to give RAK Rugby its identity, but the club are moving forward at pace.

There have been many changes between their end of their first season in domestic competition and the start of their second.

Their name has changed from Goats to Rocks to, simply, Rugby. They are relocating to grass premises.

They have a recent UAE international, long-term RAK resident and former Dubai Hurricanes prop Craig Chapman, conducting coaching sessions. They have their own club room at Tower Links Golf Club, near the city’s centre, from which they will be able to recoup a share of the takings.

And now they even have selection problems based on having too many players, rather than too few.

There were 24 at Wednesday’s training, which takes place on the hitting zone of the driving range at Tower Links. More are still to return following their summer holidays.

All of which marks quite a contrast to days gone by.

“Last year, if we got 15 players to training we were jumping for joy,” Simon Williams, the club chairman, said.

“Sometimes we only had eight, or even just six. Now we have changed the name to RAK Rugby to make it really obvious who we are and what we do, and hopefully made it more inclusive.

“I’d like to think we can be 40 strong before the start of the season. There are some who haven’t played rugby at all, but there is also a good crowd there that pretty much covers every single nation that plays rugby – and obviously a few that don’t.”

Among the squad are Syrians, Egyptians, Lebanese – and a giant former wrestler from Brazil.

Hossam Sakr, a fitness instructor from Egypt who doubles up playing with overseeing strength and conditioning duties for the team, says he fell in love with rugby after joining RAK three years ago.

“It is everything you want from a game,” said Sakr, who has been resident in the emirate since 2004.

“It is the kind of game you just fall in love with. I was always worried because I had started late, because the game is not that familiar in Arab countries.

“I played soccer before, and never even knew we had rugby in Egypt. My friend introduced me to rugby in Ras Al Khaimah, and I found myself in the game.”

The biggest change from last term will unquestionably be the fact home games are no longer to be played on sand.

Ironically, RAK lost the four matches they played at Bin Majid last season. Their only wins came on the road – and on grass.

That is not the only reason they have sought green pastures this time around. Players found it tough playing and training on sand regularly - the players’ washing machines presumably felt the pain, too - while the club also felt it inhibited the growth of their embryonic junior set up.

“We may still go back there and use it, and it was a great thing in terms of giving us a place in Ras Al Khaimah,” Simon Williams, RAK’s player-chairman, said of the sand playing field.

“But we have two minis teams now, and the sand pitch was a challenge to get interest for new players. Some were OK with it and stuck with it, the same with some of the senior players.

“When you say you are trying to make it more structured and slightly more professional, then grass needs to be the surface of choice, and we are working on options for this now.

“Other teams love it for that one off experience, then in the sea afterwards, because it is great fun. When you are training on it day in and day out then it's a different experience."