x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

UAE to wait and watch radical plan by New Zealand's rugby officials

The UAE is examining a programme instituted by the New Zealand Rugby Union to limit winning margins at the junior level to 35 points. The idea has come under fire.

Students learning rugby on the annual health day of Jebel Ali Primary School in Dubai.
Students learning rugby on the annual health day of Jebel Ali Primary School in Dubai.

Given their comparatively modest standing in the world of rugby, the UAE's rugby administrators would usually jump at the chance to imitate development plans implemented in New Zealand.

However, those charged with developing the game here are treating the latest master plan unveiled in the world's No 1 rugby nation with caution.

As per the New Zealand Rugby Union's Small Blacks development programme for children aged 13 and under, the winning margin for junior rugby games is now capped at 35 points.

Coaches from opposing sides are encouraged to meet at halftime if one side leads another by such a margin and agree on how they can bring the two sides closer together.

The plan has provoked some strong views.

The New Zealand Herald yesterday quoted a number of former All Blacks as criticising a "ludicrous attempt to protect children from reality".

"That's the kind of weak-wristed thinking that's the bane of New Zealand society," Marc Ellis, who once scored six tries for New Zealand in a 145-17 win over Japan in a World Cup match, told the newspaper. "It is protecting people from themselves. It is protecting them from realities they need to find out."

Wayne Shelford, the former New Zealand captain, was quoted as saying: "It is social engineering people not to be hurt by score lines, not to be hurt by losing."

The UAE are not about to follow suit, although they will be monitoring the programme.

Ghaith Jalajel, the development officer for the UAE Rugby Association, said miss-matches, particularly at junior level, can be a hindrance because: "We actually have clubs within the UAE who say they turn up every week and get beat by 60 points, and after a couple of months they find it hard to get boys to training. We thought the way to control it was to have two leagues, but it is definitely worth seeing what comes out of New Zealand.

"I would say it is a brave call."

Jalajel said the UAE RA are considering a two-tiered junior competition to reduce the potential for lopsided matches between weaker and strongest junior sides, such as the Abu Dhabi Harlequins, Dubai Exiles and Dubai Hurricanes.

"We have thought about introducing an A league and a B league to cut down these margins, but we haven't thought about having a cap on the score," Jalajel said. "It is something we would consider, but we'd like to wait and see what reaction there is from the New Zealand public.

"Some people are in favour and some are against it."