x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Showdown in Bahrain could be farewell trip for the Exiles

The travelling UAE side will aim to make the most of what could be their final match in one of Middle East rugby's strongholds for some time to come.

DUBAI // A trip to Bahrain to play the undefeated champions-elect should represent a daunting prospect for Dubai Exiles. However, the travelling UAE side will make the flight to Manama this morning aiming to make the most of what could be their final match in one of Middle East rugby's strongholds for some time to come. Gulf rugby will undergo a major revamp at the end of this season, meaning cross-border travel, for the UAE clubs at least, is likely to be minimal or even non-existent from next term.

The changes are the result of the Arabian Gulf union being de-listed as a member of the International Rugby Board. From next year, each of the region's constituent nations will go it alone as part of the reforms. The format of competition from next season is still undecided. However, the regular league season in the UAE is likely to involve solely Emirates clubs, which means a fixture list like today's - which sees Abu Dhabi travelling to Muscat, Dubai Hurricanes flying to Kuwait and Dubai Dragons hosting Doha - will be a thing of the past.

Wayne Marsters, the head coach of the Exiles and the former Arabian Gulf coach, said: "When we went to Kuwait, we thought to ourselves, 'Well, we may not be coming back here again'. "People have been coming here to play rugby for 40-odd years, and now we might not be doing it again, depending what form the season takes. Bahrain are the strongest playing side at the moment, but in terms of playing numbers and clubs, the strength is obviously in the UAE.

"It is all very well for us to go off and form our own domestic competition, but we still have a commitment to developing rugby in the rest of the Gulf." @Email:pradley@thenational.ae