x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Youngsters get a chance to shine at rugby festival

The Etihad Airways Junior Rugby Festival also aims to attract around 400 Emirati pupils.

The festival has children of all ages competing.
The festival has children of all ages competing.

ABU DHABI // Archie Warnerford is looking for revenge at this month's Etihad Airways Junior Rugby Festival.

The seven-year-old Brighton College Primary School pupil is still smarting that his Abu Dhabi Harlequins side failed to win the trophy for their age group a year ago; rather, it was the Al Ain Expats who prevailed at Zayed Sport City (ZSC).

This Australian-born Quade Cooper wannabe is keen not to allow that to happen again.

His attitude gives a clear indication that while this international tournament, now in its fourth year, is partly about meeting young rugby players from all over the world and extending the arm of friendship through sport, it is also taken as seriously as a certain tournament in New Zealand.

"I loved playing in the festival last year but it was spoiled a little bit that we lost to Al Ain," said Archie. "It was pretty close and we need to stop them this time.

"All the games we played were good fun and really competitive. It was interesting to see the different style of rugby, as well.

"One of the great things about the festival is that you get to play against kids your own age from different countries. I think it's going to be even bigger this year and I can't wait."

It certainly will be bigger, with a record 2,200 participants from ages five to 18 from, all over the Gulf region and the UK, taking part in Abu Dhabi. This year's festival, which started yesterday at ZSC, consists of two elements: the Harlequins Rugby Schools (through Friday) and the Junior Rugby Tournament (October 28-29).

"It's good that a lot more kids are playing rugby and they will get some good coaching when they go there with their schools," said Archie, who plays for the Harlequins under eight side. "There are coaches from Harlequins coming over again and they will help us improve our game."

Conor O'Shea, the club's director of rugby, is among them.

Expatriates from traditional rugby nations are not the only ones who will be showing off their skills; the organisers believe 400 Emirati schoolchildren will be involved this year.

Archie's dad, David, who coaches his son's team, thinks the timing for this festival is perfect.

"The World Cup has got everyone buzzing about rugby and I'm sure that's why we'll get so many teams coming this year," he said.


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