x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Wind fills UAE rugby’s sails

A week after the men started their new campaign, the UAE Women’s Sevens League will kick off on Friday with the biggest participation numbers yet recorded for the female game in this country.

With the growth of rugby in the region there are more opportunities for female athletes to play the sport such as at this Dubai Rugby Sevens match between UAE Women and a Canadian team, in red, at The Sevens stadium, Dubai in November 2012. Jake Badger for The National
With the growth of rugby in the region there are more opportunities for female athletes to play the sport such as at this Dubai Rugby Sevens match between UAE Women and a Canadian team, in red, at The Sevens stadium, Dubai in November 2012. Jake Badger for The National

The winds of change are whistling through UAE rugby with gathering pace.

With a fully Emirati national sevens team now regularly competing on the continent, as they plan for Asian Games participation next year, the sport has already undertaken a significant facelift.

There is more going on beyond the mainstream of the men’s thriving domestic game, too.

A week after the men started their new campaign, the UAE Women’s Sevens League will kick off Friday with the biggest participation numbers yet recorded for the female game in this country.

The domestic competition, played in an abridged format, will begin at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi today with 10 teams in two divisions. Because of the way the season is arranged in a series of tournaments, as on the IRB Sevens Series, teams can be added to the official competition after the campaign has started.

It is anticipated that a side from Al Ain will join later in the season, and Dubai Hurricanes, the leading force in the women’s game, are planning to enter a third side of their own.

Such times of plenty have never been experienced here before.

“Because there is an A and B league now, there are more opportunities for women to play,” said Jenny Matheson, a player-coach with the Hurricanes and the league’s competition manager.

“The way the league was set up three years ago meant if you didn’t make the squad of 12, you weren’t going to play. People got discouraged because there is a big difference between the top two or three teams and everyone else.

“Because there are two divisions, there are more opportunities for people to play at the level they need to play at.”

A healthy competition structure will be a boon for the national women’s team, whose next assignment is in India in November.

Unlike the men’s side, there is no call to address the balance between experienced expatriate players and Emirati players who are just learning the game.

There are no senior women Emirati players, but Matheson is hopeful that will change. “This year we are trying to get some Emirati girls playing as well,” Matheson said.

“That was one of the initial aims, but that is an even harder task than getting the men playing, and that is a hard enough task in itself.”

pradley@thenational.ae