x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Slow and steady does it for UAE rugby team

Indigenous talent will be selected for the national team on merit

Players of the UAE Shaheen team in action during the Abu Dhabi Harlequins Sevens tournament late last year. Some of the players will participate in the Bangkok Sevens this weekend.
Players of the UAE Shaheen team in action during the Abu Dhabi Harlequins Sevens tournament late last year. Some of the players will participate in the Bangkok Sevens this weekend.

The Rugby Association (RA) says it is in no rush to flood the national team with Emiratis, even though the development of indigenous players remains one of the main priorities of the nascent governing body.

In its first competitive action of 2012, the country will be represented by the UAE Shaheen, an Emirati development side complemented by a small group of experienced expatriate players, at the Bangkok Sevens this weekend.

The tournament would have been the third leg of the 2011 Asian Sevens Series, but it was postponed because of the flooding in Thailand in October.

It is a non-ranking event, and thus seen as an ideal opportunity to give the fledgling Emirati players another taste of international competition and touring life.

A handful of Emiratis experienced serious competitive international rugby for the first time last year.

For the most part, their influence on the field remained peripheral, as the game's bosses here attempted to strike a balance between maintaining standards and development.

However, Qais Al Dhalai, the RA's deputy secretary general, insists baby steps are enough for now.

"The results are not important to us at present," said Al Dhalai, a former Al Wasl footballer who has been on the board of the RA since it was first created at the start of 2009. "We just want them to get involved more and more. Maybe those players can improve day by day and play for the national team, but we don't want to rush it.

"We must go slowly, because Emiratis are not born into a culture which plays rugby. If you talk about soccer, OK.

"I played soccer when I was six, not rugby.

"You cannot blame the players if they are not that good, because they were born in a country which does not play rugby."

Duncan Hall, who is still acclimatising to his role as the UAE performance manager, says sevens is the ideal format for development, as the UAE looks to build a side for the 2014 Asian Games.

"With sevens as the vehicle, we have the aim of getting a couple of guys who can be first-choice players in their club," Hall said. "We want them to be good enough that the first team will say, 'We want you to play.'

"If we can get that, the next task is to get players who are up to the level to play for the national team."

pradley@thenational.ae