Catch all the live action of the Rugby World Cup 2023 at the best sports bars in Dubai! Our guide to venues, big screens, and great food.
UAE Expat Rugby News
Rugby enthusiasts of Dubai! This summer is going to be an absolute treat for all rugby fans. July and August of 2023 are set to become scorching months of action-packed live international rugby right here in Dubai, as teams from around the world gear up for the much-anticipated Rugby World Cup, scheduled for September in France.
As the mercury rises, so does our excitement for these warm-up international matches that will bring together some of the best rugby talent from across the globe. These thrilling encounters will not only set the stage for the upcoming World Cup but also provide us with an unforgettable experience of the sport we love.
We’re dedicated to being your go-to source for all things rugby-related, and we promise to keep you informed and engaged throughout this exciting journey. So, let’s get ready to witness the heart-pounding tackles, spectacular tries, and fierce rivalries in the build up to the RWC2023.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the fixtures that will grace the rugby fields during this incredible summer:
Kick Off Times For Live Rugby Internationals In The UAE
Remember to stay tuned to Yalla Rugby for live coverage, match analyses, and all the latest updates on these matches. Let’s come together as a rugby-loving community and support our favorite teams as they prepare for the Rugby World Cup in France!
Get your jerseys ready and be prepared for a summer of scintillating rugby action. Stay connected with us as we embark on this unforgettable journey of passion, camaraderie, and sheer rugby madness. Yalla Rugby, Yalla World Cup!
He joins the Hurricanes after a stint in Canada where he coached the international 7s team and 15s squads in the run up to the 2019 a rugby World Cup and the Tokyo olympics in 2020.
Paul is no stranger to coaching rugby in the UAE. He previously coached the Jebel Ali Dragons during the 2016/17 campaign where they reached the UAE Premiership final, losing out to the Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
As a dual-code player Henry represented both New Zealand in Rugby League and England in Rugby Union and Sevens. His impressive resume includes Wigan Warriors, Bradford Bulls, Harlequins in rugby League and Bath, Gloucester and Leeds Carnegie in Rugby Union.
With a squad, heavily featuring players from the Dubai Exiles, they will play a two match XV a side series against Pakistan on the 4th and 8th of July. The 24 man squad has been selected from 5 of the rugby clubs in Dubai and 2 UAE Shaheen (local Emirati) players.
The Asia Rugby Championship Division 1 competition in Lahore was originally meant to include Philippines, Singapore, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, but Philippines and Singapore have been forced to pulled out due to financial issues, leaving just Pakistan and the UAERF to have a 2 series playoff to see who gains promotion into the Asia Rugby Championship.
Asia Rugby Championship
Formerly known as the Asian Five Nations, the Asia Rugby Championship is the premier men’s XVs competition in Asia and features Hong Kong China, Malaysia, and Korea. Current champions, Hong Kong China will begin to defend their crown on the 10th June as they face Malaysia.
The culmination of the Championship will take place on June 17th, as Asia’s rugby giants, Korea and Hong Kong China, go head-to-head in a final match of the championship.
UAE Rugby National XV Squad
- Pieter Killian (Exiles)
- Lukas Waddington (Exiles)
- Riaan Barnard (Barrelhouse)
- Moeneeb Galant (Exiles)
- 🎧David Gairn (Exiles)
- Yousuf Lashkri (Shaheen)
- Esekaia Dranibota (Tigers)
- Jonathan Harris (Dragons)
- Mathew Mills (Exiles)
- Epeli Davetawalu (Exiles)
- Jaen Botes (Exiles)
- Sidhant Mehra (Hurricanes)
- Gareth Newman (Dragons)
- Carel Thomas (Exiles)
- Thomas Battiston (Hurricanes)
- Tayne Stannard (Exiles)
- Boris Finck (Hurricanes)
- Tobias Oakeley (Hurricanes)
- Hadyn Palmer (Exiles)
- Diarmuid Carr (Dragons)
- Sakiusa Naisau (Tigers)
- Ibrahim Doree (Shaheen)
- Kobi Bates (Tigers)
- Tadgh Nash (Exiles)
UAE Rugby Finals Round Up 2022/23
View all the winners and runners up from this year’s UAE Rugby Finals
UAE Rugby celebrated a fine close to the 2022/23 rugby season this weekend as they closed off with a grand final day in the Garden City of Al Ain. Local rugby clubs descended on the Amblers RFC as they hosted the 2022/23 Rugby Finals Day in association with UAERF and the UAE Rugby Club Consortium (RCC).
Spread over two separate weekends in March, there was plenty of talent on show as featured teams (Exiles, Sharks, Warriors, Tigers, Hurricanes, Harlequins, AD French, Small Blacks, Falcons), from Under 11’s to Seniors in both male and female categories played out their final fixtures which showcased the best of rugby in the UAE.
Huge congratulations to all teams in making it to the finals!
- 🏆 Under 11 Boys
- 🏆 Under 12 Boys
- 🏆 Under 13 Boys
- 🏆 Under 13 Girls
- 🏆 Under 14 Boys
- 🏆 Under 15 Girls
- 🏆 Under 16 Boys
- 🏆 Under 19 Boys
- 🏆 Under 19 Girls
- 🏆 Senior Womens
- 🏆 Senior Mens
Under 11 Boys Finals
Under 11 Boys Rugby Results
Abu Dhabi Harlequins A 25 vs 15 Dubai Hurricanes A
Dubai Tigers B 35 vs 20 Dubai Hurricanes B
Under 12 Boys Finals
Under 12 Boys Rugby Results
Dubai Exiles A 35 vs 0 Dubai Tigers A
Dubai Sharks B 77 vs 7 Abu Dhabi Harlequins B
Under 13 Boys Finals
Under 13 Boys Rugby Results
Dubai Exiles A 24 vs 12 Dubai Hurricanes A
Abu Dhabi Small Blacks B 48 vs 26 Dubai Hurricanes B
Under 13 Girls Finals
Under 13 Girls Rugby Results
Dubai Warriors A 34 vs 32 Dubai Sharks A
Dubai Sharks B 38 vs 20 Dubai Hurricanes B
Under 14 Boys Finals
Under 14 Boys Rugby Results
Dubai Tigers A 37 vs 19 Dubai Hurricanes A
Dubai Tigers B 32 vs 27 Dubai Hurricanes B
Under 15 Girls Finals
Under 15 Girls Rugby Results
Dubai Hurricanes A 50 vs 29 Dubai Sharks A
Abu Dhabi French B 79 vs 49 Abu Dhabi Harlequins B
Under 16 Boys Finals
Under 16 Boys Rugby Results
Dubai Exiles A 26 vs 17 Dubai Tigers A
Abu Dhabi Harlequins B 35 vs 22 Dubai Warriors B
Under 19 Boys Finals
Under 19 Boys Rugby Results
Dubai Exiles A 26 vs 17 Dubai Hurricanes A
Under 19 Girls Finals
Under 19 Girls Rugby Results
Dubai Exiles A 26 vs 12 Dubai Hurricanes A
Dubai Sharks B 27 vs 22 Abu Dhabi Harlequins B
Dubai Hurricanes C 35 vs 7 Abu Dhabi French C
Senior Womens Finals
Senior Womens Rugby Results
Dubai Hurricanes League Winners
Dubai Falcons Cup Winners & League Runners Up
Abu Dhabi Harlequins Plate Winners
Dubai Exiles Shield Winners
Dubai Hurricanes (Cones) Bowl Winners
Senior Mens Finals
Senior Mens Rugby Results
A recent article from Rugby Asia 24/7
After a period of teaser social media posts and videos to garner media attention for the first pan-Asian professional rugby union club competition – the Asia Rugby Grand League (ARGL) – the first semi-concrete details for the inaugural tournament were confirmed, with the tournament set to be played in May 2024.
Who Will Play in the Asia Rugby Grand League?
Over the weekend of 4th February 2023, Asia Rugby gathered the heads of 12 of the targeted rugby unions in the region for meetings in Singapore to discuss the ARGL. In attendance were the Union Presidents and CEOs of Singapore, Hong Kong, UAE (Apollo Perelini), China, Thailand, South Korea, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Pakistan, Japan, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
Asia Rugby confirmed the first season of the Asia Rugby Grand League would only include 4 Union clubs, with the goal of expanding the competition to 12 clubs by 2027, which is when the Men’s Rugby World Cup takes place in Australia.
The initially invited four Unions are Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia (which are the four nations in the top tier of the Men’s Asia Rugby Championship).
Some media reported initial plans would see the ARGL feature eight clubs in the first edition of the newly conceived Grand League, but this also highlights the problem with media today trying to get a scoop and publishing unverified facts.
This was also the first strong hint that this professional rugby union league would be a men’s league, a topic, which as far as we understand, had yet to be addressed. We will come to this later, but there is a strong argument for this first groundbreaking league to be a women’s league in Asia.
Asia Rugby also confirmed that the concept and initial format were discussed with those present at the meeting, with Asia Rugby President, Qais Al Dhalai saying “ARGL has been developed to outline our strategic and key performance goals, leading to a high-performance clubs rugby tournament that will help grow the fifteens aside game in Asia and benefit national teams in the future to compete at a high-performance level.”
In addition, the region’s governing body wants the ARLG to be “a world-class club rugby league to ensure a robust, sustainable, and commercially viable future for the game.”
Professional Rugby in Asia – Where Can Lessons Be Learned
Aside from the current Japan Rugby League One (which is not fully professional for all players), there is no other pro league on the continent.
Hong Kong Rugby Union (South China Tigers), Malaysia (Malaysia Valke), and Singapore Rugby Union (Asia Pacific Dragons) all had brief experiences in the short-lived Global Rapid Rugby which was largely bankrolled by Australian Andrew Foster from 2019 to 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to the regional league.
The Sunwolves from Japan also had a brief stint in Super Rugby before being axed.
The lessons from these unions and other current new rugby union leagues around the globe should lay the blueprint for a successful foundation of the ARLG.
Most notably, the new Premier Rugby Sevens in the USA, the URC with teams from Europe and South Africa, the Rugby Europe Super Cup which features clubs from so-called “second tier rugby nations in Europe”, and of course the 2023 Super Rugby Americas which kicks of on February 18, 2023, and includes teams from South and North America, and is believed to be a strong influence on the format of the Asia Rugby Grand League.
Innovation and Technology – ARLG
Asia Rugby plans to implement “innovative technology in the likes of artificial intelligence and experimentation with law variations.”
There are also plans to “partner with major international and local commercial partners to secure the necessary funding, including broadcasting and media rights, merchandise sales, and other commercial activities.”
The Asia Rugby Grand League has the opportunity to showcase some of the best Asian rugby talents but playing too much with law variations is not something we are a fan of. It’s proven to often not work and this ARGL has the opportunity to educate a whole new audience on the sport and its laws, trying to implement law variations will only further add confusion.
There are already several potential tech partners who already operate in the region and could offer players the chance to play abroad. These include FirstPoint USA which is a US Sports Scholarship & University Admissions service which already operates offices in Dubai, Singapore, Mumbai, and Shanghai. They also held a special US rugby scholarship trial at the GEMS Metropole School in the UAE on Sunday 5th February 2023.
Will more players look to follow the actions of Dinesvaran “Duke” Krishnan, who became the first Malaysian to join the MLR (Major League Rugby) in the USA by signing with the newly formed Chicago Hounds (who’s founders also have connections to Asia), and use the ARGL as a launchpad for their professional careers?
Other potential partners could include:
- A service like PlayWize aims to “connect Athletes, Agents, Teams, Schools, Brands and Universities from across the globe” and also covers leading tech in sports and rugby.
- Or a platform like Matchkit which has been used to great effect by South American rugby clubs and players.
- How will the Asia Rugby Grand League look to provide a fan-engaging platform which will show all matches in all regions in Asia and beyond? Will they have looked at the implications of NFT (Non-Fungible Token) ticketing and fan engagement, metaverse experiences, digital innovation, or LUCRATIVE ad patch programs?
- One report suggests that the number of digital consumers will rise to 88% of the total population of 15-year-olds and above by 2027 in Southeast Asia with the top activities including watching video content.
- The CEO of SportPro Media confirmed recently that Mastercard launched a sports economy index analysing the interests of sports fans and technology. Among the findings was that 61% say tech plays a major role in their enjoyment of sports and that 43% watch more sports on social media than on television.
Who will fund the Asia Rugby Grand League?
It will be interesting to hear what financial model and funding will be used for the Asia Rugby Grand League.
If the franchise model is to be implemented, who will have the financial burden, will the aforementioned Unions need to front up with funding or seek private partners? Many have lamented the lack of funds already made available to them to contest the Asia Rugby competitions and grassroots should take preference from any Union’s budget in our opinion.
Is World Rugby funding the ARGL?
Malaysia Rugby has been the only Union so far to give an approximation of the costs, and as one of the four invited Unions has yet to make a commitment saying:
“One of the issues is money as it will cost more than a million RM (about USD $250,000) to prepare a solid team for the ARGL. ARGL allows teams to hire foreign players which is costly, especially those from New Zealand, Australia or other nations (with similar standards). We also need to look for sponsors and this will take time. We are not sure whether Asia Rugby will give us any subsidy for ARGL.”
We have always thought that the region, which boasts the highest concentration of billionaires in the world (believed to be close to 1000 by the end of 2022) should have more financial benefactors. It also brings into play how the funding and the monitoring of the spending and where the money comes from will be assessed by Asia and World Rugby.
Many of the top football clubs in the region, for example, are bankrolled by extremely wealthy people and families, which carries its own pros and cons.
Why Not a Professional Women’s League in Asia?
World Rugby’s global strategy to grow the women’s game is detailed in the “2015-25 Women’s Plan”, but Asia Rugby has often been quick to point out this region as one of the fastest growing and best represented in the women’s game. They also often highlight their own commitment to gender equity at the committee level – so it seems it would be a prime opportunity to operate one of the few professional women’s rugby union championships on the planet.
In 2021, three Asian countries featured in the World’s Top 20 for registered players; Japan, Sri Lanka and China. On the topic of a pro league in Asia, Ada Milby also previously told us: “The bridge to the international level is much smaller and Unions have a better chance to have a team perform on the top level in women’s rugby.”
With the WXV kicking off in 2023, a women’s professional league could be a fantastic feeder to national teams, increase exposure, and attract top talent who could help develop Asian players.
To be fair, in terms of reaching Rugby World Cups, the women’s game in Asia has also been better represented with a number of teams reaching the tournaments in the past (Japan, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan) and with the future expansion of the RWC 2025, there is a good chance multiple Asian teams will be present. In the Men’s game, only Japan has featured from Asia at Rugby World Cups.
Politics in Rugby
Asia, we think, is one of the most exciting regions in the world to monitor and write about rugby. There is nowhere with more diversity and this also brings its fair share of challenges. Also, the vast scale of the continent and how it’s under-resourced in developing the sport are constant thorns in the development of the game.
At Asis Rugby EXCO levels, the governing body tries to paint a unified picture but it’s not always as it seems. We have been privy to see far too many anonymously sent emails and correspondence between the governing body and the unions to suggest that many decisions are not unanimously agreed upon.
Its politics, and it is understandable and not unique to Asia, but getting a unified agreement on how the Asia Rugby Grand League will be put into play and supported by all concerned will be fascinating.
There are egos too, and the success of the professional rugby union era across Asia will need to see egos placed to the side, with the sport’s future and growth at the core. Only time will tell if that can be achieved.
RAK Rugby have recently announced the election of David Learman as their new Chairman.
Learman brings a wealth of rugby experience to the role both as a former player (in the UK) and Club Secretary for the past eight years. He takes over from out-going Chairman – Eddie Presch.
New chairman, Learman said;
“I’m honoured to be elected Chairman of RAK Rugby – a club close to my heart since I joined in 2014. I’m in no doubt I have some big shoes to fill. Building on the legacy of my predecessors and continuing the development of the club will be no easy task. Over the coming weeks we will be launching new initiatives and social activities offering sport and fun for all. My aim is to bring the club to the heart of the RAK community and our community to the heart of the club.“
“Over the coming season, we will focus on promoting and enrolling increased participation in the RAK Raptors – our popular Mini and Youth development programme – led by Willem Smit. At the beginning of October, we will kick-start weekly Touch Rugby sessions under the management of Ian Wilson, our newly appointed Director of Touch Rugby. This new initiative is aimed at fitness-minded individuals who prefer not to play contact rugby. I would like to think, by mid-season we’ll be in the position to field a competitive Touch Rugby team.“
“We are committed to our patron, His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimis, Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, to develop and promote sports activities for the benefit of the youth and population of the emirate. Although competitive contact rugby will always be at the core of RAK Rugby, I firmly believe the club cannot thrive without diversification and the engagement of Emirati and Expat members of our community. I plan to invest time, effort and with the support of our sponsors, funds, to encourage the participation of all in our safe and fun sports activities – regardless of nationality, gender, age and ability.“
Supporting Learman, the club have also announced the return of veteran member Galvin McKechnie as Vice Chairman and the retention of Altaf Sarangi as Treasurer and custodian of the club’s finances and Paul Clark as Facilities Manager.
Joining the back office team is newly elected Social Secretary Sheikh Shezan, who hopes to make an impact with a calendar full of social events and activities scheduled throughout the 2022 season and Hannah Joao who will manage the Club’s social media and communications.
With only 15 days left before the revival of the 2022/23 West Asia Premiership rugby (after a two year hiatus due to Covid-19), it’s been revealed that the Dubai Hurricanes have withdrawn from Premiership rugby.
The West Asia Premiership is seen as the top flight rugby within the Gulf Region. It was back in 2016/17 season, that we last saw a full house of rugby clubs represented within the league. Doha and Bahrain, were the other non UAE teams within the once popular league making up of a total of 7 teams.
Now, after featuring in the league since its creation, the Canes will play their rugby in Division 1 and 2 this season, due to a lack of player numbers.
The club will hopefully have a recruitment drive before the Christmas break and may feature in the league again at a later date (friendlies fixtures only).
Does Premiership Rugby Still Excite Fans?
The news comes at a time when a lot of people are questioning how sustainable Premiership rugby is in the Gulf Region.
Many players and rugby fans alike see Division 1 as the one to watch, fielding 10 different clubs within the league, making it a much more exciting and competitive set of fixtures throughout the season.
Now with only 5 teams and a pretty predictable outcome, the top flight league will struggle to bring the crowds as it once used to.
What are your thoughts?
Let us know in the comments below…
Ready to find a local rugby club in Dubai?
Here at Yalla Rugby we know first hand about finding a rugby club in Dubai. Becoming an expat and moving abroad to a foreign land can at first be a pretty daunting experience. You’re choosing to start a new life in a country unfamiliar to you, and whilst extremely rewarding, it can take a while to settle in and find your feet.
Once you are settled however, it’s then time for you to find a sense of normality and to start living your life the way you want it to be lived. Rugby for example, is a universally spoken language that people all across the globe can understand. Playing rugby in Dubai not only gives you some beneficial exercise, it’s also challenging, and it teaches you discipline and various other life skills in the process.
Gulf Rugby Clubs
If you yourself happen to be an avid rugby fan, looking to play expat rugby in Dubai, you’ll need to be on the lookout for a club to play for. Finding a club in an unfamiliar part of the world however, can be tricky, which is why we’ve compiled this handy guide on how to find the best rugby teams and club to support in your area.
Available Rugby Clubs In Dubai
In alphabetical order, we’ve listed only the rugby clubs based in Dubai below;
- Barrelhouse RFC
- Dragons RFC
- Exiles RFC
- Falcons RFC
- Hurricanes RFC
- Sharks RFC
- Tigers RFC
- Warriors RFC
Available Rugby Clubs In Abu Dhabi
The capital of the United Arab Emirates is Abu Dhabi, which is about an hours drive away from the popular holiday destination of Dubai. In alphabetical order, we’ve listed only the rugby clubs based in Abu Dhabi below;
- Ecole Française RFC
- Harlequins RFC
- Pumas RFC
Northern Emirates Rugby Clubs
In alphabetical order, we’ve listed only the rugby clubs based in Sharjah and Ras Al-Khaimah below;
- Rak RFC
- Sharjah RFC
What Should I Expect When Playing Rugby In The UAE?
If you’ve moved to the UAE from a much cooler part of the world, one of the first things that you will immediately notice is just how incredibly hot it is in the United Arab Emirates. For that reason, before you commit to any Dubai rugby club or team, first you will need to know what to expect. For example, playing rugby matches, and training for rugby, outdoors in intense heat is not to be taken lightly. Playing rugby and training in extreme heat is very difficult and very taxing, so it’s vital that you stay well hydrated at all times. Not only will you have to contend with the physical challenges thrown at you on the rugby pitch, you also have the burning hot sun to deal with. Even evening games are sometimes very hot and sweaty. As well as that, there is the language barrier to contend with.
Ask Around For Advice
Another great tip for anybody looking to play UAE Expat rugby in Dubai, is to ask around for any recommendations/suggestions on clubs that may be looking for new players. Gyms are great places to begin your search as there is a big bodybuilding culture in the UAE, and if there’s one thing that rugby players are known for, it’s their huge size, strength, and their love of pumping iron in preparation of games.
So with that new knowledge in mind, we wish you the best of luck when choosing a rugby club in Dubai and the UAE!!!
Rocky Truter, Head Coach of the Dubai Hurricanes, has been invited by England boss Eddie Jones, to join him at their training camp in the UK.
It’s been a busy week for the Dubai Sharks.
Earlier this week the local Division 1 side announced to the world, that former England rugby captain Dylan Hartley will be their Director of Rugby for the new 2022/23 season as they set the foundations for what they hope will be a successful promotion campaign to the UAE Premiership division.
Off the back of that announcement comes another, as three former Dubai Hurricanes coaches have reunited in new roles at the Dubai Sharks rugby club.
Matthew Pewtner – Head Coach
Former Wales Sevens player, Matt Pewtner will take the Head Coach role.
Pewtner played for Newport Gwent Dragons for 10 years, played on the international sevens circuit for Wales before concussion concerns forced him from playing.
Pat Benson – Assistant Coach
Assistant Coach, Pat Benson, will take charge of strength and conditioning. Benson’s beefy CV includes; Ireland U18/19s, Ireland 18/19’s, Italy 21’s, England universities and students, GB7’s students, Gloucester, Worcester, England beach rugby and a qualified World Rugby Level 3 Coach.
Josh Ives – Assistant Coach/Youth Development
Josh Ives, having only joined the Hurricanes at the beginning of the 2021-22 season, also assists with coaching and will lead the player and youth development for the club. Ives is a former UAE National player, previous coach of the Under 19 UAE National side and ex-lead coach of Apollo Perelini’s Rugby Academy.
Speaking with Josh Ives, he said; “Yeah it’s pretty exciting isn’t it? For Pewts, Pat and I, being able to stay and work together is great for us and it’s just a challenge none of us have had yet – you know, trying to get a team into the premiership, it’s really exciting.”
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Dylan Hartley, the former grand slam winner and captain of England, has tonight been announced and welcomed into the Sharks (and local community) family.
The (not so 🤐) well kept secret of him joining the Division 1 side, was unveiled in-front of club members and sponsors, before joining Chris McCardy on the Off Script podcast, live from McGettigans JLT.
Dylan Hartley – New Director of Rugby at the Dubai Sharks
Hartley, appointed Director if Rugby at the Dubai Sharks, has set his sights firmly on helping the club gain promotion to the Premiership of UAE rugby.
The arrival of the 97-cap international star, who captained England for the 6 Nations grand slam back in 2016, is a surprise appointment for a team who were close to going out of existence four seasons ago, due to a lack of club numbers.
The Sharks, having had on occasions, an uncomfortable ride, have struggled with success off and on the field. But as has been a constant with the club, they’ve dug in and got on with whatever has been thrown their way.
Now the fruits of their labour are finally beginning to pay off, after a strong player recruitment drive during the previous two season, reforming their women’s rugby team and starting their mini and youth rugby section, the club is beginning to turn heads as they’re now amongst some of the bigger clubs in the UAE and growing fast.
Hartley will be making the move to Dubai with his young family, as he begins a new path in business development for the equipment rental company – Access Hire Middle East, who also sponsor the Sharks.
Speaking with Hartley, before he was unveiled to the club, he told us of his motivation for moving to the Middle East, other than the obvious endless sunshine:
“My time as a professional rugby player had to end. That chapter of my life has closed, but I’m ready to start a new chapter and I want to experience something new with my family.”
“The main motivation for me to start the next chapter of my life here in Dubai, is being out of my comfort zone.”
“Back when I was 16 years of age and left my hometown in New Zealand in search of a rugby career in England, I was out of my comfort zone and look what happened.”
“I was very comfortable in England and looking back, the times in my life when I’ve thrived, have been when I’ve been at my most uncomfortable.”
“If you get out of your comfort zone, good things can happen.”
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Having had an entire season without any rugby at all, Abu Dhabi Harlequins capped a triumphant return to the sport by snatching the UAE Premiership title from Dubai Exiles after a thrilling final on Saturday night.
While Covid rules meant rugby players in the capital had to go without last season, at least clubs up in Dubai were able to play a version of the sport using modified rules to limit contact.
The Exiles won that competition, just as they had the UAE Premiership the previous campaign – even if they did have to toast that success on Zoom, because of the onset of the pandemic. Going into the final, the Exiles had not lost a XVs match in the best part of three years.
Aside from having a season of rugby development to make up, Harlequins also gave up a headstart in the final at The Sevens, too.
Thanks to the impeccable kicking of Marcus Kruger, the remarkable schoolboy No 10 for the Exiles, the defending champions built a 22-10 lead with an hour gone in the final.
Bayed on by raucous travelling support, though, Harlequins hit back. By the end, they were 34-28 winners, with James McCarthy scoring two tries, Henry Brandon Brown and James Wilson one apiece, while their forward dominance was rewarded with a penalty try.
“We have a saying: ice cold, raging inferno,” Matty Thomas, the Harlequins captain, said. “We have to be ice cold between the ears, but the badge on our chest is our raging inferno.”
“It was about making sure we kept our heads, went through our processes, and we work hard enough. That allowed us to play and get a win. But all credit to the Exiles as it was a hell of a fixture.”
Thomas, the Quins fullback who is in his fifth season with the club, said the absence of rugby for so long had been tough to take.
“Psychologically, it was hard as you miss the community and camaraderie of being in a rugby club,” Thomas said.
“But the guys clicked together very quickly. The club has worked tirelessly as a whole to get better.”
“We thought they had a head start, but we trusted in our ability and there was a process that we set out at the start of the year in terms of where we were trying to get to.”
“It was sped up by the inclusion of some quality players, but what we have is heart and real commitment to each other. All we need is each other.”
“That came through here because we needed to grind out a good win against a tough team.”
Niall Lear, the Quins coach, praised his players for refusing to give in – either when they were without rugby, or when they were down in the final.
“I think that was the final everyone wanted to see in UAE rugby,” Lear said.
“[Kruger] was absolutely magnificent. It literally looked like he was never going to miss. Our message to the boys at halftime was to keep plugging away. We luckily got our noses in front.”
“Covid made us question some of the things we were doing as a club. That was brilliant for us, to re-evaluate and set up some short, medium and long term goals.”
“But for me, it is just amazing because it is just best mates, really, that we are playing with. For some, this might be their last hurrah. For others, this is just the start.”
Jacques Benade, the Exiles coach, was left ruing some close calls. When Exiles held a nine-point cushion in the second half, McCarthy was ruled to have knocked on while attempting an interception, rather than deliberately knocking the ball down as Exiles attacked.
Kruger kicked the ensuing penalty for offside, to give Exiles a 22-10 lead. They were also denied a try, on account of a forward pass.
“I think for UAE rugby this was unbelievable,” Benade said. “To get a final like that, boys playing rugby like that, I think everyone on the sideline enjoyed the game.”
“At one stage, when we were 22-10 up, we were six on one. The ball was slapped down. The player was never in a position to catch the ball.”
“At 22-10, if there was a card for them, I thought the game was over. It didn’t happen. Sometimes decisions go against you, and sometimes decisions go for you.”
“We saw that incident differently, but I think it had a massive impact on the game. But coming back from 22-10 down, you have to give Harlequins a lot of credit. There was great character shown by both teams.”
“For me, it was just unbelievable to see two amateur teams playing rugby like that. It was a massive credit for UAE rugby.”
RAK Rugby and Dubai Sharks match up in memory of a departed colleague and friend Nick Young
RAK Rugby played out their annual memorial match for the late Nick Young, today against the Dubai Sharks RFC. During a very entertaining match, RAK notched up a 10 try run as they comfortably beat a 2nd string Sharks side, 66 points to 17.
Nick was a gentle giant of man who, in April 2018, lost his life playing the game he loved, leaving a wife and children without a husband and loving father.
This is the third year the event has been held and because of the unprecedented support the club has received from the whole of the UAE Rugby Community, RAK Rugby has decided to broaden the event and make it a fun family day with an invitation to all.
Nick Young Memorial Rugby Fixture 2022
The match will kick-off at 5.00pm and the UAE Rugby Federation (UAERF) has sanctioned a full squad for each team to allow as many of Nick’s friends and colleagues as possible to participate. Speaking on behalf of the UAERF, Hazem Hassan said,
“We work tirelessly to ensure the whole rugby community plays within strict player safety and Covid guidelines. We fully endorse and support this exceptional event as it reflects the uniquely close fraternity and camaraderie that we have nurtured across the entire rugby community here in the UAE and we wish all participating, a fun day – as Nick would have wished”.
Eddie Presch, Chairman of RAK Rugby, commented “This is the most important event in our calendar. Being the last match of our season everybody in the club wants to pay tribute to a departed friend and colleague and to let Nick’s family know that not only do we miss him greatly but also, they have the whole of the UAE Rugby Community’s heartfelt support. Knowing Nick, we felt it fitting not to mourn his loss but celebrate the short time we had together and have organised a fun packed afternoon he would have enjoyed with competitive activities for kids and adults alike”.
Dale Welch said, “For those of us who were on the pitch that fateful day, it’s a chance to honour his family, to commemorate Nick’s life and his love for the game. For the rest of the team, it’s an opportunity to honour the game of rugby; to celebrate our time on the pitch together and the health we have that allows us to do so. The game will survive us all, and we would like to imagine that nothing would please Nick more than to hear of this tradition in celebrating his life and the game that has brought us together.”
Switch to Saturday fixtures will be a small amendment to a ritual that was unique to the sport in the region
The ball will still be a prolate spheroid made of rubber-polyester. The weather will likely be fair, and the grass green.
And yet the fixture will be quietly ushering in a new era. From now on, amateur players across the country will be getting their regular rugby fix on a Saturday, after a history spent waiting for Friday to come.
League fixtures will be resuming for the first time since the government announced the move to a four-and-a-half day, Monday to Friday working week.
Although the change will scarcely be noticeable, it has left some to reflect on the alteration to a ritual that was unique to the Gulf.
“In the old days the weekends with Thursday-Friday, so we had to work Saturdays, and on a Friday there used to only be one flight in and one flight out with Gulf Air, not like today where there are several,” said Andy Cole, the long-serving chairman of Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
“Sometimes you might fly out, then on the way back a group of dignitaries might have decided to join the flight to the UAE from, for example, Bahrain, and a number of players would be bumped off the flight.”
“We would have to talk to each other and work out who would lose their job if they didn’t make it to work tomorrow.”
“Then players with families would want to get back to make sure their kids and wives weren’t worried. It was like a lottery to narrow down who was going to go home.”
Cole first joined the capital’s oldest rugby club, who were then known as the Abu Dhabi Bats, for the 1991-92 season.
In his first season, matches were played on a stretch of beach at low tide, near where the Ritz Carlton Hotel is now situated. The pitch markings were drawn by hand by volunteers, who poured lime powder from cups, following a line of string.
“When the referee arrived and started the game you could see the lines, but after 15 or 20 minutes they had either blown away or been trodden on and you couldn’t make them out at all,” Cole said.
Although Covid-19 has meant cross-border travel is now limited for weekend rugby, the majority of the game’s history in the region involved clubs travelling to away fixtures in Bahrain, Doha, Muscat, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Often, the challenges of getting to away games was significant, according to Cole.
“Back when it was Thursday-Friday weekends, you had to request your passport from your employers,” Cole said. “Often, players would arrive at the airport and realise they had forgotten their passports. It wasn’t as if they could nip home to get it, as it was still in the office.
“A lot of the time you would end up flying without enough players. Sometimes we would charter our own flights on a small plane, a Twin Otter which was used to fly people in and out of the desert or oil workers in and out of the islands.”
“One of the pilots would play for us, and the co-pilot would fly us home if the pilot got injured.”
Perhaps the players who will notice the effect of the switch to Saturday kick offs will be those who no longer need to rush to games straight from Friday worship.
“It used to be tight, to be honest,” said Mansour Al Zaabi, who became the first Emirati club captain of an established team when he was appointed to the role with Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
“Sometimes we used to have matches kicking off at 1pm or 2pm, and you would barely have time between finishing your prayers and rushing to the game.”
“That is how it used to be. Now we can have a properly chilled Friday, enjoy it with the family, then have Saturday fully available for rugby.”
Al Zaabi took to rugby after discovering the game while researching new sports to play.
“I saw rugby and I thought, ‘Is that sport even played over here?’ I got in touch with Harlequins, and started there,” he said. Four years later, he was invited to be the club captain.
The loosehead prop reckons the new ritual of Saturday rugby might take a little getting used to, but he thinks it will offer teams greater flexibility.
“I don’t see why games still can’t be played on Fridays and people could still have the remaining two days of the weekend if they want to,” Al Zaabi said.
“The weekends are longer now, and people will have more time to spend with their families over the weekend. It will be interesting to see how it is going to be and how long it will take people to get used to it.”
Captain Justin Walsh says the club who first created the tournament wanted to make a statement with victory in Men’s Gulf League final
On the weekend when UAE was celebrating its Golden Jubilee, it seemed appropriate the rugby club that gave the country its most enduring sports event should return to the winners’ podium.
Even more fitting, still, that their longest serving player should guide them to it.
Justin Walsh first joined Dubai Exiles aged four. He was their captain as the club – which predates the formation of the UAE itself by five years – beat Dubai Tigers 24-12 in the final of the Gulf Men’s League at the Emirates Dubai Sevens.
“I’ve been with Exiles since I was four, so it is 25 or 26 years playing with them,” Walsh said.
“I’ve been in four finals on the main pitch and won two, so very chuffed with this. Being captain this time, it means a lot more. We have worked hard this season to build a culture.”
“We have a lot of young boys, and we have been trying to build and build and build, and to put all the pieces together in a final like that is good.”
After Exiles took the lead at the start of the game, Walsh was given two minutes to think about the size of the occasion, as he was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle.
His side then went another man down after Jaen Botes followed him to the naughty step. And yet, the five who were left did not just survive, but they thrived.
They kept possession with such skill that, by the time Walsh returned to the fray, he found himself on the receiving end of a pass which left him with the task of rampaging over the line for Exiles’ second score.
“I literally ran on, and as I was running on, I got the offload from Conor [Kennedy], and had a bit of a point to prove,” said the former Wellington International School and Jumeirah College schoolboy.
“We have got better and better every game. We just wanted to put our front foot forward. It means a lot to me, and it means a lot to the club.
“This is a second home for me. We wanted to go out there and make a statement and do things well.”
Walsh was one of four players who were part of the side the last time the Exiles won the title, back in 2017, along with Botes, Matt Mills, and Carel Thomas.
“It was a tougher final this year, for sure,” Mills said.
“We have a nice balance, with a few old heads in the squad and some up and coming youngsters there, too, to provide pace. It fired today.”
Originally published by The National.
One of the highlights on the UAE sports calendar is back after 726 days and the event’s oldest club is confident of their chances
It feels fitting the UAE’s longest running, and arguably most popular, sporting event should return after its lengthiest ever break on the country’s 50th anniversary.
The Emirates Dubai Sevens is being restored to its traditional place on the sporting calendar on National Day weekend.
By the time spectators start pouring back through the gates on Thursday morning, it will have been 726 days since they were last admitted to the weekend rugby festival.
The Covid pandemic achieved something last year, that even two Gulf Wars failed to do, in causing the Sevens to be cancelled. Never in its history had that happened before.
And that is a history which predates the formation of the country itself. A tournament which started out as the Benson and Hedges Dubai 7s Rugby Tournament was first played in 1970.
Other than the hosts, the participating teams were mainly Sharjah-based British military teams. The matches were played on sand pitches raked smooth, with stones removed beforehand, and lines marked with bitumen.
The difference to the present day is vast. Grass pitches were installed in 1996, then the tournament was uprooted entirely from its former home at The Exiles in Al Awir to the new site on the Al Ain Road in 2009.
The tournament’s founders are much changed, too. For a start, no longer are the Exiles owners of the tournament.
They are, though, the pre-eminent force in domestic rugby, having won successive titles in the XVs format.
They contributed four players to the UAE squad which competed in the recent Asia Sevens Series, and they are optimistic of their chances of regaining the Gulf Men’s League title for the first time since 2017.
“I really enjoyed that year,” said Carel Thomas, the Exiles scrum-half who was one of the standout players who won the plate in the Asia Sevens Series tournament in Dubai last month.
“It was my first year when I moved over to the Exiles to play in the uae Premiership [in XVs]. That year we did very well in the sevens tournament as well.”
“I think we stand a good chance this year. At the Exiles we have four players that represented the UAE in the Sevens Series, or who at least were in the set up, so I think we have a chance.”
“But sevens is a tricky game. One wrong bounce of the ball and you don’t get the opportunity again, but I do think we have a strong team this year and we could be capable of going through to the final.”
Dubai Rugby Sevens History in Pictures
An early Dubai Rugby Sevens tournament, started by the Dubai Exiles RFC. The tournament was birthed in 1970, when the host club, Dubai Exiles, invited sides to play a competition in rugby’s abridged format. The invitees included teams from the British armed forces, who were happy for the break from garrison duties in what was then the Trucial States. The Exiles were the leading force in the early years of Gulf rugby.
Dubai Exiles Rugby Sevens, December 1981. France have never won the Sevens. The closest they have got was when Les Bleus lost the 2011 final to England. But French hands have been on the Emirates International Trophy before, when Toulouse won the main competition in 1990.
The first Dubai sevens games were played on sand pitches.
Some people get wistful about the old days of playing on sand. Others only remember the pain. “It was like playing in flour with bits of brick in it,” Mike Jackson, a former Dubai Hurricanes player, said of the experience. “Then you would get nicks and cuts that would go septic.”
The tournament was played on sand up until 1995, when the pitches at the old Dubai Exiles ground were turfed thanks to huge investment by Emirates Airline. In the last final on sand in 1994, South Korea beat the Warblers 21-20.
Dubai was one of the legs of the new World Sevens Series formed in 1999. Even though both the event and the series have become increasingly formalised since, the best known faces are often to be seen with the amateur teams on the outside fields. Like in 2006, when the reigning world player of the year Dan Carter was waterboy for Stefan’s BHF.
The tournament relocated from its original home in Al Awir to a new purpose-built site further into the desert in 2008. The new Sevens Stadium played host to that year’s Sevens, and also staged the format’s World Cup in 2009.
Nobody has tasted success in the international tournament at the Sevens more often than coach Ben Ryan. The Londoner oversaw wins with England in 2010 and 2011, then with Fiji in 2013 and 2015.
Rarely have more stars shared a field at the Sevens than when union royalty J9 Legends faced rugby league all-stars Joining Jack in the Vets event in 2013. It pitted the likes of Carlos Spencer, Stephen Larkham and Waisale Serevi against Jason Robinson and Andy Farrell.
J9 Legends made the final that season, but were beaten by Xodus Steelers in a classic encounter on Pitch 1. It was memorable less for the match, as the emotional scenes after, when J9 captain Serevi pushed Joost van der Westhuizen, who was stricken by motor neuron disease, through a guard of honour.
A year earlier, in 2012, Joining Jack had a celebrity fanboy running on water for their players. Bradley Wiggins had recently won the Tour de France and Olympic Gold, and was days away from being named BBC Sports Personality of the Year. A knighthood was in the offing, too.
Joining Jack, a charity side that raises awareness of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, do a good line in celebrity fans. In 2015, Owen Farrell struck a notable figure on the sideline, while supporting father Andy in the Vets tournament.
One of the greats of England rugby, Maggie Alphonsi, played for Tribe 7s in the Invitational Open in 2014. “Maggie the Machine” was not the only World Cup-winner on the outside fields that season, either. Steve Thompson, the hooker for the 2003 champions England, played for Gulf Legends in the International Vets.
In 2015, former Scotland wing Thom Evans danced past a load of defenders to score a try for UR7s Wanderers in the International Open on Pitch 2. It was his first touch of the ball on his return to the game after five years out with a serious neck injury while on international duty.
Perhaps the most poignant victory in all 50 years of Dubai Sevens tournaments came in 2017, when Speranza 22 won the final of the International Invitational. The team had been set up in memory of Marcos Speranza, who had won the Gulf Under 19 title with Abu Dhabi Harlequins but later died in an air crash in his native Argentina.
The Al Maha team made history when they competed in the Gulf U18 Girls tournament by becoming the first all-Emirati female side to play at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.
Dubai Hurricanes’ bid for a hat-trick of Gulf Men’s League trophies will have to wait until next year. They won back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019.
The incredible 50-year journey of Dubai Rugby Sevens embodies the spirit of the city. Victor Besa / The National
This story was originally published on The National by Paul Radley.
The 10-team competition at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City marked the start of the series of competitions
Dubai Hurricanes women made a winning start to the season as they claimed the opening leg of the UAE Women’s Sevens Series on Friday.
The 10-team competition at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City marked the start of the series of competitions, played in the abridged format, which constitutes the women’s campaign.
Hurricanes took maximum points from the opening round, capping off the competition with a 29-19 win over Dubai Falcons in the final.
Traditional tournament on National Day weekend to be preceded by behind-closed-door event at The Sevens
Fans are set to be admitted to the Emirates Dubai Sevens on National Day weekend, the organisers have announced.
The tournament was cancelled for the first time in its history in 2020 because of Covid-19.
The HSBC World Sevens Series continues to be hindered by the effects of the pandemic, with Dubai now set to play a key role in its return.
The Dubai Sevens will return to its traditional slot on the holiday weekend, from December 3-4. There are plans in place for spectators to attend.
That event will also be preceded by a behind-closed-doors tournament a week earlier, on November 26-27, at the same venue.
The twin tournaments will represent the first two legs of the 2022 World Sevens Series season, with the rest of the circuit yet to be announced.
The news follows a number of cancellations to other tournaments, and a major reorganisation of the schedule.
Tournaments that were due to be staged in Singapore and Cape Town will now not go ahead.
Sydney and Hamilton, in New Zealand, which were due to stage legs of the 2022 series, have also been cancelled, with organisers hoping to announce replacement venues for those later this month.
The entire 2021 series will be accounted for during a double-header of tournaments in Canada, in Vancouver on September 18-19, and Edmonton the following weekend.
“World Rugby and the host organisations have taken these disappointing but necessary decisions with the health and welfare of players, fans and the wider public as top priority,” the sport’s governing body said in a statement.”
A number of core teams on the series will be unable to compete in Canada due to travel complications caused by the coronavirus.
The same issue is likely to face teams from New Zealand, Australia, and the Pacific Island nations in particular ahead of the two tournaments in Dubai.
Despite the difficulties, Tom Burwell, the Emirates Dubai Sevens tournament director, is delighted the tournament will be able to take its place back on the sports calendar.
“We are excited to welcome back the world of rugby sevens to Dubai this November and December,” Burwell said.
“We have always been very proud to kick off the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series each year.”
“To once again take our place at the beginning of the new season is something that Dubai is very proud of, with the first Emirates Dubai Sevens being behind closed doors before a huge celebration to open the series for 2022 as we welcome teams and fans from all over the world to The Sevens Stadium.”
Posted originally on The National News.
Former Dubai Tigers player will dovetail her university studies with training with some of rugby’s top players
As a rugby-mad child, Sophie Shams once used to attend summer trainings camps at Saracens in the UK while on her holidays from school in Dubai.
The courses took place near where her grandma lived, and she used to go along happily, despite being the only girl in attendance.
It is funny how life works out. This week, a little under a decade on, it was confirmed the Emirati student has been signed by Saracens, who are the most successful side in the history of the Women’s Premiership in England.
She has one year left on her geophysics degree at Durham University in the UK’s north. When time permits from her studies, she will join up with a squad that boasts some of the stars of the English women’s game.
She will be partaking in drills and tackling practice alongside the likes of Vicky Fleetwood and Marlie Packer, each of whom has played more than 70 times for England, and Poppy Cleall, who was the Six Nations player of the tournament this year.
All of which might sound daunting. But, she says, it is far better to be with them than against them.
“It is quite scary when you walk out on to the pitch at Saracens training and everyone around you are such amazing players,” Shams said.
“Olympians like Holly Aitchinson. Sevens players like Chantelle Miell. Red Roses like Vicky Fleetwood, Marlie Packer and Poppy Cleall – to name a few – as well as and international players from other countries surround you.”
“They are all lovely and have made me feel very welcome. I look forward to playing and learning from them even though it is slightly intimidating being on the same team as them.”
“However, it is infinitely better than watching them all charge towards you when you are playing against them.”
“The level that they not only play at, but also train at gives me a standard to aspire to.”
“Sometimes I am literally star struck and am so impressed, but it shows how much I can improve my game and this really excites me.”
Shams already has experience of Premiership rugby herself, having dovetailed her studies in Durham with playing for Darlington Mowden Park Durham Sharks.
She says the decision to leave the Sharks was hard, given they “have taught me a lot in the past couple of years and have given me lots of experience playing at a premiership level”.
She has opted to switch to Saracens at the same time as two of her DMP Sharks colleagues have done the same.
Her focus for this season, though, will be on university rugby and her final year of studies, as well as “holidays and when needed I will be at Sarries”.
In announcing her signing, Saracens said she “has had a fascinating journey to North London after originally playing in the Middle East, and has picked up plenty of experience along the way”.
The transfer to the side who have won more Women’s Premiership titles than any other team is fine reward for Shams’ efforts to overcome injury.
Shams, who first learnt rugby in the Under 6s team at Dubai Exiles, Dubai Tigers and attended Jumeirah English Speaking School then Dubai College, has suffered serious injuries to both knees in her fledgling career to date.
Each injury, coincidentally, occurred in separate years on nearly the exact patch of turf on Pitch Two at The Sevens, during the annual Dubai Rugby Sevens.
“After two ACL reconstructions, which appears to be a very common injury in female rugby players, I am feeling very strong,” Shams said.
“One of the upsides of the Covid-19 lockdowns was that I had time to recover and focus on my rehab. I did my return-to-running block by myself as I knew how to load it from the first ACL.”
“You would have to be a very lucky person to play rugby and not sustain injuries. It is a fact of rugby that you have to accept and hope that any injuries are not permanent.”
“It is so great to be back on the pitch with XVs and of course sevens which uses a completely different skill set.”
“I was very lucky this season to play for Samurai 7s, and I got to blow the cobwebs away.”
Article originally posted on The National news.