x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The grass roots of rugby can thrive in the Garden City

Picking up the players who have slipped through the cracks in the football system could be a productive avenue for rugby to pursue, especially in the sevens format.

Mohammed Hassan Rahma was the first Emirati to play international rugby.
Mohammed Hassan Rahma was the first Emirati to play international rugby.

If rugby is ever really going to take hold among the Emirati public, Al Ain would be the perfect place for it to germinate.

The Garden City is already a nursery for sport. The football club is one of the most successful in the UAE. It is so well supported it is fair to regard the club as the centre of the community.

That is both a curse and a blessing. Rugby perennially fights for attention with football in this country. It is a battle it is never going to win, particularly amongst UAE nationals.

However, that is not to say nothing any good will ever come of it. Almost all of the small core of Emirati rugby players started out with football as their first love.

Mohammed Hassan Rahma, the first indigenous player to play international rugby, started out as a goalkeeper for Dubai Club, for example. Hareb Al Azri, the Al Ain Amblers player, is a similar case.

Picking up the players who have slipped through the cracks in the football system could be a productive avenue for rugby to pursue, especially in the sevens format.

Not all aspiring footballers growing up in Al Ain will make it to play for the city's football team. If they can be encouraged to see rugby as a second option, they will find a local club who needs them.

More than any of the Dubai or Abu Dhabi clubs, Al Ain Amblers have suffered by player departures of late. Unlike the transient expatriate population, however, Emiratis are usually here to stay.

pradley@thenational.ae