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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Rugby in UAE: Dubai Sports City Eagles ready to soar in their inaugural season

New team have convinced UAE Rugby Federation they are capable of playing top-flight rugby and in West Asia Premiership.

Dubai Sports City Eagles will get to play at a venue they own - something few UAE rugby clubs can boast about. Victor Besa for The National
Dubai Sports City Eagles will get to play at a venue they own - something few UAE rugby clubs can boast about. Victor Besa for The National

Dubai Sports City Eagles hope to establish themselves as a viable West Asia Premiership club, after taking up an option to join the top division immediately after being formed.

The new club have been entered into the Premiership on the provisional fixture list for the forthcoming season, having persuaded the UAE Rugby Federation they are capable of playing top-flight rugby.

Space became available in the premier competition for Gulf rugby after Al Ain Amblers opted out last season due to a lack of player depth.

It also seems unlikely Doha will be unable to take up their place in the competition because of the Qatar dispute.

That would have left just six clubs – Abu Dhabi Harlequins, Abu Dhabi Saracens, Bahrain, Dubai Exiles, Dubai Hurricanes and Jebel Ali Dragons – in the region’s top league.

Some chairmen from the established Dubai clubs have expressed their doubts as to whether the Eagles should be admitted directly to the Premiership.

However, the start-up team were keen to accept a place straight away, as they are confident they will be competitive in their first season.

They are in the throes of a busy recruitment drive, with a number of clubs on alert about losing personnel.

Based at Sports City, the Eagles believe they can attract leading players because of their proximity to the residences of new Dubai, as well as providing access to the facilities on site.

As the owners of the venue, they will also have less costs to bear than other Dubai-based sides, all of whom are tenants at their respective home grounds.

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The Eagles hope to imitate the success of Doha and Bahrain in becoming the central club of their community.

Sean Carey, the former Dubai Exiles and Hurricanes winger, is leading the project as the facilities manager at Sports City.

“It is a venture we are launching here,” said Carey, who debuted for the UAE national team at the end of last season.

“We want to become a community club and have a real family vibe to it, like in Bahrain at Doha.

“It is going to take a lot of work at first to get this thing off the ground, but hopefully down the line we can be up there as one of the better clubs in the region.”

Carey said the opportunity to go straight into the Premiership was too good to turn down.

“If it means we take a hiding in some of the games, we’ll take that as we want to be there,” he said.

“We are serious about it. It wasn’t just a social thing, we wanted to take a good shot at it. When the opportunity arose, we just took it.”

Sports City has been an active rugby hub for some time now. It hosted the first UAE Rugby Grand Finals day at the end of last season, while Arabian Knights and Dubai Sharks have been long-term tenants.

Carey acknowledged the landlords will take priority over the tenants when it comes to pitch hire.

“I think they will remain separate entities, it is really up to them where they want to go with it,” Carey said.

“We obviously needed to move some things around, as we needed the peak timings for the business. I think they will continue on as they are.

“We are not eating them up, and we are not amalgamating. It is a new venture we are starting, it is up to players wherever they want to play.”

Mike Quinn, the chairman of the Sharks, whose teams play in the Conference and Community leagues, says his club are now looking at alternative venues to play and train.

“We are on the hunt for a new pitch, and are looking at multiple options,” Quinn said.

“It is going to be tricky. Dubai has plenty of pitches. Trying to find ones that are prepared to allow rugby players to play on them is very difficult. I am sure we will find something.”

Arabian Knights hope to continue to base their huge mini and youth operation at Sports City.

The senior men’s teams are assessing other options for pitch hire, but no players will be decamping to the new club, according to John Taimana, Arabian Knights manager.

“Every single senior Knights player will be staying,” Taimana said.

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