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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

UAE-Gibraltar rugby friendly in Dubai breathes new life into DuRandt Gerber's career

Dubai Exiles fly-half to put proposed retirement plan in cold storage after call to national duty for adopted homeland means he could push for Test cap in 12 months’ time

DuRandt Gerber, seen here in Dubai Exiles action, had a nine-year professional career in Italy before moving to the emirate three years ago. Victor Besa / The National
DuRandt Gerber, seen here in Dubai Exiles action, had a nine-year professional career in Italy before moving to the emirate three years ago. Victor Besa / The National

A South Africa-born fly-half who was once on the verge of going to a World Cup with Italy will make a belated international debut on Friday – in the colours of UAE.

And yet, because the national team’s only XVs international rugby this year is an unofficial friendly against Gibraltar, DuRandt Gerber’s wait to become a full Test player will go on.

Now aged 36, the Dubai Exiles fly-half might have thought his chance at international rugby had gone. He had planned to retire this summer, but the call to national duty for his adopted homeland means he will likely play on a push for a Test cap in 12 months’ time.

That would be dependent on the national team returning to the fold of Asia Rugby, wherever it be on the competition ladder, after they pulled out of Division 1 this season.

“I was thinking of hanging up my boots at the end of this season, but I have spoken to Jacques [Benade, the Dubai Exiles coach] and my wife, and am considering playing on for one more season,” Gerber said.

“If the tour comes up next season, and if I get picked up and am still good enough to play, then I would definitely be happy and more than willing to have a go.”

Gerber had a nine-year professional career in Italy before moving to Dubai three years ago. He won three caps for Italy A and was part of their 43-man training squad ahead of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

His arrival in the Emirates has fuelled two UAE Premiership title wins for the previously underachieving Exiles in the space of the three seasons he has played.

As one of the standout performers in the league in that time, his elevation to national team duty had always felt inevitable – to all except the man himself.

“I never even considered that I would be picked up for the national team here when I moved to Dubai,” Gerber said.

“Some boys asked if I would qualify and I said then that I was not even thinking about it. After that, I thought, what if I had come out here 10 years ago and made a different choice.

“I am really honoured to put on the UAE jersey and have a go at it against Gibraltar. Even though it is an unofficial Test match, it is still an honour and a privilege to play.”

UAE coach Apollo Perelini has been able to assemble surely the most talented squad of players since the UAE team started playing international XVs rugby in 2011.

Debutants in the forward pack such as Gio Fourie, Craig Nutt and Matt Mills will be working to supply ball for the likes of Gerber, Ross Samson, Saki Naisau and Matt Richards, who are all outstanding additions to the back-line.

The pedigree of the squad selected only serves to add to the bittersweet feeling over the fact UAE will not be playing competitive XVs rugby in 2018.

“It is a shame we can’t play a full international with a side like this,” Perelini said.

For Gibraltar’s expanded tour party, it will be a fourth match in the space of a week on tour in Dubai.

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They have had tune-up matches against Exiles, Dubai Sports City Eagles, and UAE Barbarians – a side mostly made up of players who are ineligible for selection for the national team.

Gerber helmed the Exiles’ 33-19 win over the Gibraltar select XV at Nord Anglia International School on Monday. He is looking forward to the prospect of facing them again, albeit alongside some unfamiliar faces.

“I’m excited to be playing alongside some of the boys we have been playing against for the past three years,” Gerber said.

“It is a good team Apollo has picked, so I am excited to be running around with those boys.”

UAE v Gibraltar

What: International friendly

When: 7pm kick off

Where: Rugby Park, Dubai Sports City

Admission: Free

Online: The match will be broadcast live on Dubai Exiles’ Facebook page

UAE squad: Lucas Waddington (Dubai Exiles), Gio Fourie (Exiles), Craig Nutt (Abu Dhabi Harlequins), Phil Brady (Harlequins), Daniel Perry (Dubai Hurricanes), Esekaia Dranibota (Harlequins), Matt Mills (Exiles), Jaen Botes (Exiles), Kristian Stinson (Exiles), Murray Reason (Abu Dhabi Saracens), Dave Knight (Hurricanes), Ross Samson (Jebel Ali Dragons), DuRandt Gerber (Exiles), Saki Naisau (Dragons), Andrew Powell (Hurricanes), Emosi Vacanau (Harlequins), Niko Volavola (Dragons), Matt Richards (Dragons), Luke Stevenson (Harlequins), Josh Ives (Dubai Sports City Eagles), Sean Stevens (Saracens), Thinus Steyn (Exiles)