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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Dubai Rugby Sevens success has given BSAK girls a selection headache

Number of girls wanting to join Abu Dhabi school team following last year's triumph has swollen, says captain, despite some departures

A Federal National Council member has said girls should focus on cooking skills rather than 'dangerous' pursuits such as rugby. Victor Besa for The National
A Federal National Council member has said girls should focus on cooking skills rather than 'dangerous' pursuits such as rugby. Victor Besa for The National

When a group of girls at British School Al Khubairat started a rugby team in the summer of 2016 with a view to playing in the Dubai Rugby Sevens, they had twin aims.

First, to win the tournament. Second, to leave a legacy for girls to want to follow them in playing the oval-ball game.

The first of those goals was achieved as the sun was setting on Pitch 2 on finals day at The Sevens 12 months ago, as BSAK beat Dubai Exiles to claim the Gulf Under 19 Girls title.

The second has been born out in the fact there is a team heading back to the Sevens to try to retain the school’s title this weekend, with vastly increased numbers pushing for selection.

“This year, so many new girls have started,” Uzezi Ossuetta, the captain, said. “I have helped train the U14 girls, and they have asked when they can start contact, and when they can come and join our team.

“We have had 14 year olds training with us this term, desperate to play with us, so we really have created a legacy for girls to want to play contact [rugby] as well as having the opportunity to play it and to go to the Sevens.”

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Uzezi is one of just four players remaining from last year’s pioneering team. Several of those have moved abroad to study, and have excelled in rugby, such as Catherine Richards, who now plays for Newport Gwent Dragons in Wales.

Even though the team’s prospects have been clipped because of the departures of their most experienced players, Uzezi is hopeful her side can recapture the feelings they had last year at the Sevens.

“It was phenomenal,” Uzezi said. “When the timer went on that last game, we didn’t know what had happened. We were all shocked, then we realised we had won.

“We were all crying with excitement, and if we can get that again this year, it would be the best thing that could happen to the team. It was crazy last year.”

Johnny Coombs, the director of sport at BSAK who has overseen the girls team this year, says the Class of 2016 had a massive impact on rugby at the Abu Dhabi school.

“It had huge ripples that went all the way down the school,” Coombs said.

“We ran a year of girls in sport initiatives last year, and that was one of our showcase initiatives. We found that girls are really under-represented at all levels in sport in the UAE, not just rugby.

“We really focused on them, and our sports awards was based around that team.

“We have had to rebuild this year, and we have had good numbers, but our team is young in terms of the experience they have got.”

Dubai Exiles are looking to regain the title they had won twice since the competition’s inception, before BSAK beat them in last year’s final.

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Andy Williams, the Exiles coach, says BSAK are an unknown quantity, as they have not participated in domestic competition so far this season.

“The girls [rugby] is very much club first, there isn’t the critical mass as yet to play a schools league,” Williams said.

“It is huge. From the beginning of the season, it has been the focus for all of the girls. We have had 20-odd girls training, and every single one of them started with the aim of trying to get selected in the 12 for the Sevens.

“What has been pleasing for us is that the girls who weren’t selected have all been really supportive in terms of training, to try and make sure we have a team who are ready to be competitive, to try and win our title back.”