x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Warrior call for Emirati rugby players to serve nation

Duncan Hall tells Paul Radley that pride in the country is more relevant to Emiratis than game expertise.

More than 20 Emirati players attended training in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
More than 20 Emirati players attended training in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

Duncan Hall, the performance manager of UAE rugby, has challenged his group of emerging Emirati players to match the "warriors" of Iran in the opening West Asia Sevens tournament this weekend.

The four nation competition pits the developing Shaheen side, exclusively made up of UAE nationals, against Iran, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

While the entirely embryonic Saudi side and the Lebanese represent unknown quantities, the national team's coaches are keenly aware of Iran's merits.

Wayne Marsters served as the technical director of Iranian rugby before moving back to the UAE to become the national rugby manager.

Hall also had first-hand experience of them, after overseeing the senior UAE sevens team's encounter with them at the Mumbai Sevens last month.

The national team won that game, but the side for this weekend is stripped of all its experienced expatriate players. As per the nature of this new tournament, all the players involved are UAE citizens.

"Having played Iran recently we described them as warriors," Hall said.

"We were telling the guys that while they might not understand the subtleties of the game, they were competitors.

"They lead pretty hard lives so can be pretty tough. But our guys are representing their country in a pretty good level competition, so they are excited."

While the West Asia Sevens is regarded as a foundation stage in spreading the game to native Arabs in the region, the UAE side are already showing signs of progress.

More than 20 Emirati players attended training at Al Ghazal in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

The venue of the training itself was an indicator that Emirati rugby is no longer entirely Dubai-centric. Hareb Al Azri is an example of a player who has thrived despite coming from a rugby backwater.

The winger was raised in Al Ain, played Premiership rugby for the city's Amblers club last season, and has scored tries in the top tier for his new club, the Abu Dhabi Saracens, this term.

Hall hopes more players like Al Azri will begin to emerge now that the rugby federation have an Arabic-speaking development officer in place in the Garden City.

"We are really excited about the work Sami Smara is doing out in Al Ain," the former Australia player said.

"From experience back at home, the kids from the regional areas are the ones you really want to grab. They are keen to be involved and they like rough and tumble."

pradley@thenational.ae

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