x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Harlequins pitch in to help junior rugby players

About 2,500 youngsters from the Arabian Gulf, Russia and UK will compete in the Junior Rugby Festival which kicks off in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

The Etihad Airways Junior Rugby Festival kicks off in Abu Dhabi this weekend. A few senior players of the Abu Dhabi Harlequin players are seen showing Emirati children how to play the game.
The Etihad Airways Junior Rugby Festival kicks off in Abu Dhabi this weekend. A few senior players of the Abu Dhabi Harlequin players are seen showing Emirati children how to play the game.

ABU DHABI // Thousands of teenagers will compete in the region's biggest youth rugby event tomorrow.

About 2,500 players from the Arabian Gulf, Russia and the UK are expected to compete at the Etihad Airways Junior Rugby Festival at Zayed Sports City over two days.

Some youngsters were treated to a master class yesterday held by several leading international rugby coaches.

Conor O'Shea, a former Irish international and director of rugby at Abu Dhabi Harlequins, and Harlequins player Will Skinner were among those at the Vocational Education Development Centre (VEDC) grounds to pass on tips.

The centre's Under 16 squad got its first taste of a competitive scrum and ruck only last week after first picking up a rugby ball 13 months ago. Their game tomorrow will be their second ever. But Mr O'Shea believes the teenagers have the ability to succeed.

"To see how quickly they picked up the sport we got them doing a bit of structure, lifting, line-outs and they took it though a couple of phases," he said. "You can see there is a willingness to learn and they are like sponges."

James Roberts, VEDC principal, said his players had the attitude and physique for the game.

"We have a lot of talented boys who are competitive in nature and want to engage with this sport," he said. "I speak to them a lot about it and there is a big motivation towards playing.

"They are enjoying their rugby, which is what we want."

In addition to boys' teams, there will be women's contact rugby and touch games.

Chris Davis, director of rugby at Abu Dhabi Harlequins, said the weekend would have a festive atmosphere and teams would be able to face squads they would not normally play.

"They get that tournament feel," he said.

There will be 187 teams competing at the festival.

The VEDC squad is not expected to make too much of an impact this weekend, but players hope to gain valuable experience if not a trophy.

Mr Roberts said the school was laying the foundations for a winning season next year.

"We have match practise and as they get more competitive there is potential here. They could do some damage next year," he said.

Mr O'Shea said the UAE was on the right track for rugby to play an integral part in the country's sporting scene. "The more you see the local kids getting involved, it is a great chance of getting the game embedded into culture."

He told how one of the young players put the game in simple terms.

"'I get the ball and run,' he told me. That is the game of rugby. All you need are good skills. If you can catch, pass and run, you can play the game," he said. "Everything else is tacked on to that. That is how the game will evolve.

eharnan@thenational.ae