x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Vibrant Saracens add colour to Abu Dhabi rugby scene

They may have possibly the smallest in-goal areas in the Gulf, and probably anywhere in the world, too but Abu Dhabi Saracens are keen to make their mark on the capital's rugby scene.

An Abu Dhabi Saracens player executes a box kick.
An Abu Dhabi Saracens player executes a box kick.

As the trademark quartered shirts of the Abu Dhabi Harlequins pounded away at a try line defended by a newly minted team playing in black, a familiar shout emanated from the crowd of around 250:

"Come on, Abu!"

For the first time in the capital's rugby history, going back to expatriate oil workers tossing a ball around on a patch of sand, it was not exactly clear to whom the shout referred.

Abu Dhabi Saracens may have succumbed to a comprehensive 41-3 defeat at Al Ghazal yesterday against their forebears in the first Abu Dhabi derby, but they still look liked they belong.

Harlequins vacated this field a year ago before moving to their smart new home at Zayed Sports City, and it remains an unlikely rugby pitch. The patch of grass next to the airport is only just big enough to meet the standard International Rugby Board requirements for pitch size.

The in-goal areas are certainly the smallest in the Gulf, and probably anywhere in the world, too.

And when the ball gets kicked into touch, it usually means an airport worker - stationed at the side of the pitch as the only person with permission to trespass - has to sneak through a hole in the fence to retrieve it.

These may seem like humble beginnings, but from such small acorns mighty rugby oaks have been known to grow. Saracens do not need to look any further than their English equivalent for reasons to believe.

The small, ramshackle stand at Al Ghazal, for example, may be little more than a glorified Meccano set, but the original Saracens started off with something very similar at their first home at Bramley Road in London.

Yet last season, they were packing the stands at Wembley Stadium, and went on to win the English Premiership.

The Abu Dhabi version has humbler aspirations, but noble ones nonetheless. They have 12 nationalities represented among their initial crop of 46 registered senior players, including some Emirati newcomers pushing for a place in the starting XV.

"There are only so many times you can spend your weekends at Jones the Grocer, but now Fridays are all about rugby," said Brett Bowie, the Saracens captain, chairman and loose-head prop.

"To be honest, it would have been freakish if we had turned up here this afternoon and beaten the Harlequins.

"They are a great club who have been established for a long time. Five weeks ago our club didn't even exist, but we are off and running now, and we know what we need to do."

Andy Cole, the chairman of Harlequins, said that, far from being a threat to his own club, the emergence of Saracens means there will be 22 people playing rugby who otherwise might not have bothered. "It means more and more people are involved in the game, which is ultimately what we all want," he said.

pradley@thenational.ae