x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Winning them over

The Qatar and Lebanon rugby sides are hoping that victories will bring some government support for their sport.

Rugby may still be alien to most of the Emirati population, but the UAE is still doing its bit to bring Arab nationals to the game, judging by this week's HSBC Asian Five Nations Division IV in Dubai.

A number of players from the Lebanon side that beat Uzbekistan in Wednesday's play-off are based in Dubai. Two of them, Billy Asmar and Sol Mokdad, ironically represented the UAE in an unofficial rugby league international against Lebanon in 2009.

Local knowledge provided a vital aid to the preparations of a hastily put together squad, according to Ghassan Hajjar, the vice-chairman of the Lebanon union. "Part of the team have come from Lebanon, some have been brought up in Dubai, and some used to live in Lebanon but have moved to Dubai or Abu Dhabi," he said.

"Co-ordinating between all of them was difficult, but we have been able to add to the sessions … at The Sevens by training by ourselves at a park next to our hotel whenever we could. Some of the players who live in Dubai recommended it, so we went there to work on some moves and calls."

Lebanon will meet Qatar in this evening's Division IV final. The Qatari side is dominated by expatriates, but they do have four proud nationals in their squad.

According to Aaron Palmer, the New Zealand expatriate who coaches Qatar, the game will only progress in the country with the input of indigenous players.

"For the people who make decisions about where funding goes, we would have a strong case in terms of rugby having a future [by winning today]," he said. "Our aim is to get some wins and make the decision-makers take notice of rugby as a sport. If they can start to fund it, then we can think about employing development officers.

"We have four Qataris playing, and it is a big drawcard to have Qataris representing them."

Entering a side in this tournament revived the waning interest of a group of nationals who had given up the game after playing in the sevens tournament at their home Asian Games in 2006.

"There was nothing there to back it up or push them, so things came to a halt," Palmer said. "With the disbandment of the Arabian Gulf there was the chance we could start our own federation and a couple of guys went and found these old players and started to get them interested in the game again."