The UAE is set to take a lead role in shaping the future of rugby in the region following the formation of the new Arab Rugby Federation (ARF).
The ARF was officially announced on Monday after an extraordinary general meeting was held in Dubai this week.
The ARF has been formed to represent the Arab nations solely in sport of rugby, under the auspices of the Union of Arab National Olympic Committees (UANOC), with the intent to participate in regional games, which follow the pathway to World Rugby, and IOC sanctioned and recognised events.
UAE rugby chief Qais Al Dhalai has been appointed chairman, and said: “The formation of this federation is very important to the development of rugby (in the Arab world) as the sole focus is on rugby itself.
“We aim to support and stimulate World Rugby and Asia Rugby’s strategic objective of growing the game, and open doors for rugby’s inclusion at the upcoming West AsiaGames and the Arab Games, which are both owned by the UANOC.”
The ARF’s committee was also finalised, with Morocco appointed first vice chairman, Tunisia second vice chairman (both Morocco and Tunisia hold World Rugby membership), and UAERF board member Mohamed Shaker appointed as secretary general.
— ARAB RUGBY (@arabrugby) October 1, 2015
Shaker added: “I’m very confident the Arab Rugby Federation will offer various development opportunities to grow the sport among the Arab nations, which at the end of the day will benefit all parties.”
The new federation’s formation was witnessed in the presence ofnine Arab rugby bodies, with the ARF including: UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco.
Meanwhile, UAE coach Roelof Kotze has called in three new players to his latest sevens squad for this weekend’s Asian Sevens Series event in Sri Lanka.
Kotze, who will step down after the competition, has included Andrew Carphin, Imad Reyal and Mohamad Hassan in his travelling party.
New Abu Dhabi Saracens full-back Hassan Al Noobi believes his experience with the UAE national team will help him settle in quickly in his new surroundings.
The Emirati, 28, made the move to Al Ghazal this summer, stepping up to the UAE Premiership following two years with Conference side Arabian Knights.
The talented back shone for the UAE 15s team during the Asia Rugby Championship tour to Malaysia in May, notching 23 points in three games for Roelof Kotze’s men.
Al Noobi has also been part of the UAE sevens side that has performed well in two legs of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series in China and Thailand in recent weeks.
“I don’t think it will be difficult for me because I’ve played with the international teams so it will be the same sort of level,” said Al Noobi when asked if he believes he can make the step up at Sarries. “I will try my best to improve and be one of the best players in the league. I’m going to do my best and try to help the team.”
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Al Noobi slotted three of five conversions as Sarries opened their Premiership account for the season on Friday night with a 31-10 defeat of Al Ain Amblers, and he believes Sarries can pick up from a successful 2014-15 campaign, which ended in glorious West Asia Cup triumph against Doha in March.
“From what I’ve seen, Sarries can continue the success and I’m looking forward to hopefully being champions with Saracens, playing in the West Asia Championship and to win that,” he added.
The team are renowned for the family-orientated atmosphere at Al Ghazal and Al Noobi revealed he experienced that first hand at his very first training session.
“I noticed that on the first day,” he said. “When you join a new club and you don’t know any of the boys you feel uncomfortable, but when I came here they made me comfortable from the start.”
He may have just announced that he is leaving his post as national team head coach, but Roelof Kotze believes the UAE are in good hands with Apollo Perelini at the helm.
Perelini, a force of nature during a glittering professional career in both union and league with Samoa, has also made an impact on the coaching side of the game during his seven years in the UAE and will replace Kotze as head coach of the UAE 15s team.
He was roped in as part of Kotze’s coaching staff when the UAE played at the Asia Rugby Championship in Malaysia earlier this year, impressing as forwards coach.
The 46-year-old, who is head of PE at Repton School Dubai and runs his own rugby academy, has had a busy 2015, also accepting a position as the Shaheen head coach just a few months ago.
“Apollo will take over the 15s and I think that will be a very smooth transition in terms of having worked together already this year,” said Kotze, who announced on Saturday he was leaving the role he has occupied since January 2014.
“We think about rugby along very similar lines. With Apollo, he was pulled in on a very part-time basis and in a few months he has gone to taking over the Shaheen and now the head coach of the 15s.
“It’s a lot of work and more of a commitment from him than when I asked him to help me out, but he’ll be going flat out for that next year.”
As for Kotze, despite leaving his post while seemingly on the cusp of a real rugby revolution with the national team, he is proud when reflecting on his 22 months in charge.
“I would like to think the UAE has come forward as a rugby nation in my time here,” he said.
“The local guys have stepped up and there’s quite a few playing at a higher level now than they’ve played before.
“We’ve worked really hard on that and we’ve set up the Shaheen as a proper programme, with a team now playing in the 15s league.
“The national side started off badly last year with a loss against Singapore, but we’ve made amends this year. The players and clubs have really bought into what we’re trying to achieve and I think that’s why we had success this year in the Test matches.”
As for the sevens side, Kotze will be hoping to end his time in charge of the UAE on a high note as the UAE stand on the brink of securing a berth in the core eight Asian sevens teams, which has long been the South African’s dream.
“With the sevens, when we played last season with a full on Emirati squad, the guys were definitely making progress. We were starting to see the benefits, but the expats added that little bit of experience we didn’t have,” he said.
“That’s taken us over the top. We had been hoping for top eight and where we are sitting now is sixth place so that’s not what we expected. The boys are working very hard because they want to finish the job next week in Colombo.”