x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The Al Ain Amblers are limping in the UAE Premiership

The Garden City side side and Abu Dhabi Harlequins are both missing players, but for different reasons.

The Abu Dhabi Harlequins were defeated by the Dubai Hurricanes last weekend, the capital side were missing some of their and the UAE’s best players for the match.
The Abu Dhabi Harlequins were defeated by the Dubai Hurricanes last weekend, the capital side were missing some of their and the UAE’s best players for the match.

The haves and have-nots of UAE rugby will meet in Al Ain today, when the Abu Dhabi Harlequins travel to play the Amblers in the Premiership.

The contrast between the two could not be much starker. The Quins have one title already this season, and are in good shape in the Premiership, too.

They stuttered a little last week, losing to the Dubai Hurricanes. It would be trite to say an availability crisis (they were missing some of the UAE's best players from their line up) cost them. They should look to Al Ain to see what an availability crisis really looks like.

While the Quins were picking two squads, the Amblers had to forfeit their last home match, against the Dubai Exiles two weeks ago, on account of the fact they could not raise one.

"We have taken some knocks, but that builds character," said Kit Philp, the Amblers chairman. "We have a team this weekend, and we will drive on."

If ever a case study were needed to prove just how the fortunes of UAE rugby clubs are wholly dictated by the transience of expatriate life, the Amblers would be it.

The club from the Garden City have so much going for them. Their home ground, easily accessible and with high-spec pitches, is the envy of almost every other in the region. It is in the centre of the community, and they do not have to share it with anyone else, either.

They know what success on the field tastes like, too. When they raced to promotion in 2010, they blazed a trail in the Emirates Conference with a side that included one player with Super Rugby experience, and another who has a Super Bowl ring.

The fact their first UAE international, Quihen Marais, who debuted for the national team before Christmas, learnt all his rugby in Al Ain suggests they have a youth section of substance, too.

Yet now they have to battle to field the bare 15. Recruitment has regressed in the three sectors in which the majority of Al Ain's western expatriates find employment - defence, health and education - and the club has suffered as a consequence.

"Suddenly the really top-quality players we had in that period were on the plane home," Philp said of the 2010 team. "We marched into the new season gallantly hoping we would hold ourselves up. We have found it very, very difficult."