x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Local input crucial for big crowds at Wasps and Quins

The organisers of the Wasps and Harlequins match have been shrewd in inviting Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Dubai Wasps to play a curtain-raising match.

When Premier League football chiefs in 2008 mooted the idea of playing a 39th game overseas, England's No 1 sporting behemoth looked set to expand its huge global footprint.

However, the idea quickly stalled and now rugby will beat its rival code to the punch when Wasps and Harlequins meet in a competitive fixture in Abu Dhabi.

For all the talk of Wasps "growing their brand", this test case comes in a competition which ranks low on their priority list.

It would not have attracted much of a crowd had it been played at Adams Park. But moving it to a temporary ground in the UAE does not necessarily guarantee it will sell out, either.

High-profile teams do not automatically sell themselves here. Especially, as in this case, when their best-known international players will be staying at home because of the Six Nations.

In 2008, the Sevens World Cup was staged in Dubai, which ostensibly pitted the world's top 24 sides. Yet the attendance figures for the three days were way down in comparison to those of the annual Dubai Rugby Sevens, due entirely to the lack of social competitions on the outside fields. As such, the organisers of the Emirates Palace match have been shrewd in inviting Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Dubai Wasps to play a curtain-raising match.

Colts from the capital club are also set to be assigned roles as ballboys and mascots, meaning, crucially, the city's rugby public will feel some sense of ownership of the January 30 fixture.