x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Seven up for fizzing UAE rugby hopefuls

The association is placing huge importance on the format and using the carrot of an Emirati squad at the Olympics as incentive.

Emirati rugby players train at Zabeel Park in Dubai. These sessions will continue throughout the year, on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Emirati rugby players train at Zabeel Park in Dubai. These sessions will continue throughout the year, on Mondays and Wednesdays.

The Rugby Association will use the carrot of representing the UAE at the Olympics and the Asian Games as an incentive to attract Emirati players to take up the sport.

The embryonic organisation has sought to mobilise the male national population into participating in the union code by holding bi-weekly coaching sessions at Zabeel Park in Dubai.

Around 20 players of varying degrees of ability are braving the summer heat to either learn, re-acquaint themselves with the game or polish their existing skills under the guidance of Ghaith Jalajel, the development and services manager.

The Dubai Exiles hooker hopes his work will eventually lead to the UAE fielding an all-Emirati team at the Asian Games in Korea in 2014 and then, ultimately, the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

"To play for your country at the Asian Games or the Olympics is a driver for any sportsman," Jalajel said. "It's huge, absolutely massive. The 36-month residency rule will not apply, so the players will all need to be UAE passport holders at the Olympics.

"Sevens is very important as a vehicle for player development. The likes of Australia and South Africa use sevens as a way of developing young players, and this exposure helps them when they progress to 15s."

The sevens is a format the association is placing huge importance on, believing it is an ideal way for newcomers to acclimatise to the nuances of the game before they are exposed to the intricacies and physicality of the 15-man version.

To that end, the association has already launched a search for a new full-time sevens coach.

"This is an excellent opportunity for the right person to work with committed players and an ambitious union," Ian Bremner, the chief executive of the Rugby Association, said. "We will be looking at candidates that have high performance sevens playing or coaching experience combined with a sound understanding of how to develop players and teams."

Two prospective candidates have already contacted Bremner via this newspaper.

The association would ideally like to have the coach in place by the start of the Asian Rugby Sevens Series, a six-tournament event which begins with a ranking event at Shanghai in August.

The tournament is likely to come too soon for the UAE to field an all-Emirati team, but the association envisage they will soon start to bear the fruits of a new, two-tiered approach that will see the formation of two squads - a UAE squad and a Futures squad - who will train together but who will pursue two different competition programmes.

The aim is to smooth the transition of Emirati players into the national sevens squad.

"UAE Rugby has commenced a programme of sevens familiarisation for Emirati players to enhance their skills and understanding of the game," Bremner said.

"The three-year goal of the Futures squad is to produce a competitive unit to play in the Asian Games, at Incheon, South Korea, in 2014. As such, the appointment of an experienced, focused national sevens coach is paramount."

The new coach will build on the foundations Jalajel is creating twice a week at Zabeel Park.

"The skills are not too bad, but we obviously need to work on fitness skills," Jalajel said.

"There is a big difference in skills between the guys who have played a bit before, the guys who are returning to the game or the guys who are playing for the first time. But they are really putting in the effort and their commitment is very good. We have been doing breakdown skills, handling skills, running lines and defence.

"We do one v one defence, two v two and then work on decision-making by doing three v two or two v one."

Ali Mohammed and Mohannad Shaker, who were both in the UAE squad for the Asian Five Nations campaign, have participated in the sevens sessions and have been keen to pass on their skills.

"Mohannad has got great potential as a player, and is very strong," Jalajel said.

"He needs to work on his fitness, his strength and his positional play but he is very exciting.

"Ali is a very quick guy, but we need to build his confidence, and he needs to be more greedy and attack the gaps.

"But his speed is frightening."

 

kaffleck@thenational.ae