x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UAE Shaheen win but Afghanistan feel at home

Afghanistan lose best-of-three series 2-1 to all-Emirati side in Dubai but show potential to make rapid strides in rugby union.

The Afghanistan rugby team, in white, are the newest rugby nation in the world.
The Afghanistan rugby team, in white, are the newest rugby nation in the world.

DUBAI // Rugby's newest nation did not take long to get the hang of things.

Sixteen minutes into life as an international sevens team, Afghanistan were celebrating their first try when Haroon Zadran executed a perfect "Ash Splash" under the posts against UAE Shaheen. Chris Ashton, the England winger who made the manoeuvre famous, could not have done it better.

Judging by the unbridled outpouring of joy it prompted, it seems as though the Afghans are happy to be here.

Rugby should be happy to have them, too. There is reason to believe this nation could get very good, very quickly.

"We thought the energy and dynamic nature of the sport would suit Afghans very well," said, Mansoor Majid, the chairman and founder of the Afghanistan Rugby Federation.

"We have a history of 200 years of throwing the goat around, and we like heavy games. Rugby is suitable for the physics of our people."

The Afghans might as well have been playing buzkashi, the country's national sport which involves passing around the carcass of a headless goat, during their nervy 12-0 defeat in the first of their series of three matches with Shaheen today.

To say they were emotionally invested in their debut is an understatement. In the process of running on to Pitch One at The Sevens, Aziz Ahmed, their scrum-half, screamed, stopped, touched the ground, then sprinted on to the field, and screamed again while looking to the sky. "I touched the ground and asked God to give help for us," he said.

They bounced back strongly in the second game, running in four tries in a 24-0 win, to the delight of the vocal cheer squad, although Shaheen took the decider 10-5.

They are being trailed by a crew from Shamshat TV, a Pashtu language channel during their tour of the UAE.

The message about rugby has clearly got out amongst Afghans, who know well how to support a sports team of the evidence of their much-loved national cricket team.

"We need the sort of support which the cricket team get," said Sayed Mustafa Sadat, the captain, who has also represented Afghanistan at kick-boxing.

"Hopefully people will get to see us on the TV, on the internet, and we can get that type of support."

There is just one playing field with rugby posts in Kabul so far. Modest pickings perhaps, but is not bad for a union which started out with three players around a year ago. And they are thinking big.

"I can assure you, the way rugby is progressing in Afghanistan, in five years time they will be rubbing shoulders with New Zealand, Ireland, England and all these guys," Majid said. "Hopefully."

pradley@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE