x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Rugby fans made to wear hearts on wrong sleeves

Distribution problems have led to a host of rugby fans unable to support their teams in national jerseys.

DUBAI // As any rugby fan can tell you, watching your country in the World Cup finals without sporting the national jersey is simply not done.

But ahead of this morning's kick-off of the quarter-finals, fans in Dubai have found it difficult to buy official jumpers.

While partisans from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will be able to celebrate in their teams' kit, many supporters of the English, Irish, Welsh, French and Argentinian teams said they had searched fruitlessly for Rugby World Cup 2011 jerseys in Dubai.

Stephen Lally, 28, from Dublin, searched three shopping centres in the emirate before he admitted defeat.

"Staff just kept pointing me to the Six Nations [Europe's premier rugby tournament] jersey which has the sponsorship on it, which I refuse to wear," he said. "I really wanted a jersey because I think I'll get a few days out with it now with the way [the Irish] are playing. It's something we can be proud of."

Puma makes Ireland's rugby jerseys. A Puma Middle East spokesman said: "Originally, we did not receive any pre-orders from the local market.

"Based on enquiries in the course of the tournament, we tried to source the product from other jurisdictions but were unsuccessful due to the sudden high demand in those other markets."

Declan Finucane, 32, also from Dublin, said he was asked by his friends to buy the shirts in Ireland the last time he was home.

"Half my suitcase was taken up with them," said Mr Finucane, a financial consultant.

"I could have opened my own shop because once word got out I had two spare shirts, they were taken up immediately."

Clive Rogers, 34, an England fan, has also struggled to find a replica strip. "I thought the Nike store would at least have it," Mr Rogers said. "Given the fact England won the tournament in 2003 and got to the final in 2007, it seemed like a no-brainer."

Sun and Sand Sports, the UAE distributors for Nike, stocks rugby shirts of various brands and teams in its stores but many of the official World Cup national jerseys were unavailable.

The French jumper was not secured by the distributor, while the Welsh jersey was not made available to the region by the manufacturer Under Armour, a spokeswoman for Sun and Sand Sports said.

New Zealand's All Blacks shirt, made by Adidas, was available but there were no Argentine jerseys to be found.

"Globally, the New Zealand All Blacks are the key rugby federation for Adidas, but currently rugby is not a strategic priority for Adidas in the region," said Jad Chouman, the head of marketing for Adidas Emerging Markets.

Scott Gibbs, a former player for British and Irish Lions, said he understood fans' dismay.

"It is a huge identity, sense of pride and responsibility," said Gibbs, a panellist for OSN's World Cup coverage. "Certainly in expat communities it transports them back to where they belong."

eharnan@thenational.ae

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