x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ruling opens the door for hooker

Ghaith Jalajel, the Dubai Exiles hooker, is targeting a place in the Arabian Gulf side after a ruling from the IRB ensured his chances of representing his native Jordan would not be hindered by wearing the colours of his adopted home.

AD200910709179928AR
AD200910709179928AR

DUBAI // Ghaith Jalajel, the Dubai Exiles hooker, is targeting a place in the Arabian Gulf side after a ruling from the International Rugby Board (IRB) ensured his chances of representing his native Jordan would not be hindered by wearing the colours of his adopted home. The upshot of a root and branch revamp of the game in the Middle East means the Arabian Gulf national team will be disbanded at the end of this season, with each constituent nation set to be empowered to create their own representative sides.

Jalajel, who dovetails playing with his duties as the Arabic-speaking development officer for the Gulf union, has been offered a place in the regional side in the past. However, he has resisted advances as he feared it would jeopardise his chances of representing his homeland, even though they do not have a full side playing in IRB competition as yet. Players are ineligible to play for anyone else as soon as they have appeared for a full national team. However, the IRB have ruled that the players from this region will be free to play for other countries as soon as the Gulf side is dissolved.

"It was not clear before, and I was committed to playing for Jordan," said Jalajel, who would have played for the Gulf in the 2007 Asian Five Nations, before a rib injury ruled him out of the competition. By the time the next edition came around, Jordan had made serious plans to enter international competition themselves. "There had been no set decision on it but now the IRB have made this ruling, and it is very good for players like me."

Jalajel is the leading light in a growing band of Arab players at Dubai's oldest club, who play the Dubai Hurricanes in the opening weekend of the Premiership season at The Sevens this evening (7pm kick-off). He scored a try as the Exiles beat Muscat in the Gulf Cup at the weekend, while Badir Fikree, an Emirati forward, also made his debut from the replacements bench for the home side. "We have been making a conscious effort to give new and Arab players a playing option at Exiles," said Wayne Marsters, the club's head coach. "We've got 12 guys of Arab extraction who are current active players for Exiles in the men's programme, which is a huge improvement on years past."

The Dubai Dragons have long been regarded as one of the region's premier clubs, yet they have a surprisingly small contingent of Arabian Gulf representatives, compared to the Exiles and Hurricanes. However, the Dragons now have a raft of newly-eligible players, who qualify for the regional elite side under the IRB's three-year residency rule. When the Gulf side is disbanded at the end of this season, the Dragons will have a variety of candidates ready to play for a newly-formed UAE side.

Trent Eastgate is one of those players. Eastgate played outside Morgan Turinui, the Wallabies centre, in the midfield for Randwick in Australia before moving to Dubai nearly three years ago. "If the opportunity arose, it would be great," said the Fijian-born centre, who will captain the Dragons in their Premiership opener in Muscat today (3.30pm kick-off). To even think of playing for Australia or Fiji you have to be seven foot tall and built like an out-house. This gives us that opportunity, which is what the Middle East is all about.

"We have always had perhaps one or two Gulf players from our club, but there seems to be a number of us that have qualified after three years of being in Dubai. We have all been focused on playing for the Dragons, while some of the other clubs focus on playing for the Gulf." pradley@thenational.ae