Bolger brothers ready to make UAE rugby debuts: ‘The more you play here, the more it becomes part of your life’
DUBAI // A pair of brothers who once had professional careers picked out in rugby league in the UK appear set to make their international debuts in union for the UAE next month.
Ben Bolger left behind Super League rugby with London Broncos three-and-a-half years ago to take up a job in the financial sector in Abu Dhabi.
His brother, Sam, followed the same path soon after, and the Abu Dhabi Harlequins duo have been among the outstanding players in Arabian Gulf rugby since.
Both are now eligible to play for the UAE under World Rugby’s three-year residency rule.
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Each should be starters when the national team play their Asian Rugby Championship Division 2 campaign at Tashkent next month.
Sam was the starting scrum-half in Wednesday’s friendly match against a UAE Barbarians side at Dubai Sports City. Ben, who usually plays in the back row in club rugby, looks set to be deployed at inside centre for the UAE.
Ben said when he first arrived playing Test rugby for UAE “was never on my radar”.
“I just wanted to join the rugby club, because the reason I play rugby is for the camaraderie and it was a way to make new mates.
“The more you play here, the more rugby becomes part of your life, and when you hit the three-year mark, it is something you start to think about.”
He had once been on the cusp of playing for England Under 20s in rugby league.
Even though he had a change in status from pro to part-timer player when he moved to the UAE, he has always sent the benchmark for his teammates to match in terms of commitment.
Despite living in the capital, he has not missed one of the national team’s training sessions, that are all in Dubai.
As a marker of his exacting standards, he was angered by the national team’s defeat to the Barbarians even though it is a fixture they have rarely fared well in in the past.
“Since professional rugby has gone, it has all been about playing with my mates,” he said.
“I sent a text to mum and dad back at home, and they said it was nice that Sam and I are playing together. They were quite happy.”
It was confirmed this week that Singapore, conquerors of the UAE two years ago, had been elevated from the division before a ball has been kicked. As the highest-ranked team in the competition, they were elevated after Kazakhstan withdrew from playing in the tier above.
As such, Thailand have been brought back up to Division 2, having been relegated last year when they lost to the UAE in Malaysia.
The reshuffle means the UAE will no longer face Guam in the competition opener and will instead play the hosts, Uzbekistan.
Since finishing second in the same competition 12 months ago, the UAE have a new coach.
Apollo Perelini, who was the forwards coach last year, took over after Roelof Kotze returned to South Africa.
Perelini says he is targeting two wins and promotion to the second tier of continental competition.
“We don’t want to go backwards, we want to go forward and build on what we did last year,” he said. “One thing that everyone wants to do is represent UAE.
“It shows in their enthusiasm in training. Some of these guys are driving from Abu Dhabi weekly to Dubai, and that is a massive commitment.
“What brings them here is the enthusiasm to play for UAE and represent the country. The biggest reward is the chance to play on the international stage.”
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Updated: April 28, 2016 04:00 AM