The head of UAE rugby has warned that the future of the Emirati rugby is in a precarious position even though the number of local players taking up the game continues to swell and has even resulted in an additional team being created for this season.
UAE Shaheen head into their third competitive season in the Community League having built up solid experience in their opening two campaigns, while the hunger for rugby among locals is so demanding, a second team has been established.
Shaheen are sure to gain plenty of experience by being exposed to other Gulf countries this year, playing in the Gulf Conference, alongside Muscat, Bahrain 2nds and Kuwait.
“There are two teams, it’s giving players more chance to play,” said UAE Rugby Federation secretary general Qais Al Dhalai.
“We have a lot of players and the players and coaches asked for this. They want to play more games so we open more doors for them. Two teams suggests numbers are growing. They played last week v Muscat. In the training sessions we have lots of players.
Yet, all is not well. Swelling numbers also brings its own problems, with indigenous players seeking financial gain by continuing along the Shaheen Player Pathway Programme (PPP).
“There are many excuses by the Emirati players and it’s a big challenge to retain them and keep them interested because of soccer, which is not doing any good for other sports,” added Al Dhalai.
“They are offering players money and retainers, but other sports don’t offer that. Rugby is one of the sports players are asking for financial benefit from and we don’t want to go down that route.
“Our idea is that we need to ignite the love of the sport in these players. If we go down the route of subsidising and paying them, where’s the passion and love?
“We can sustain it now but not in the future. In our pool of 50 players currently we could afford to pay them, but what about the future when the numbers grow into the thousands?
“It’s not our priority. We opened the door for them to play in the Gulf Conference and we are pleased by the turnout in training and matches. This is not our way to run the organisation, we will never go that way, because if we do we will lose, we will fail one day.”
In addition to the success of bringing players through via the PPP in recent years, Al Dhalai added that an ‘Elite’ group has also been created this summer, aimed at further developing the cream of the crop among emerging Emirati talent.
It is encouraging that among the swathes of local players, there are enough being picked out as superior talents, which will aid the prospects of Emiratis establishing themselves under UAE head coach Apollo Perelini at senior national team level.
It is the idea of the ‘Elite’ group to feed into UAE Shaheen and the national side,” said Al Dhalai.
“Shaheen has an age group from 18 all the way to 32. The Elite is mainly players 18/19-years-old to feed the national team youth levels, Under-18 to U20 and when they grow they can play for the seniors later on.
“The Elite is the concentrated group of players that Apollo can train for the UAE. It’s a bit higher than the PPP.
“The players who are graduating from the PPP are good players and are staying with us. The proof is that the players in the programme for the last three or four years are still enjoying it. Some new players are leaving but some are staying.”
You shouldn’t be greedy.
After a thrilling platter of finals footy last weekend, Saturday’s semi-finals were a damp squib in both the AFL and NRL with thrills and spills in very short supply. The surprises however continued.
First up in the AFL, Geelong came from nowhere to stun the Swans 98-39 at The G on Friday night.
Sydney will still be shaking their heads all the way to Mad Monday celebrations – that is if they even bother to have them now. For a second year in a row they have looked bound for glory only to fall apart at the crucial juncture in the most spectacular fashion.
Last season it was in the Grand Final where the Western Bulldogs snapped a 62-year drought to kick the last three goals and defeat the heavily favoured Swans 89-67.
This year it was the Cats, who the Swans hammered back in August and who were beaten by Richmond by 51 points last weekend, turning the tables to end the heavily favoured Sydney’s season.
The credit must go to the often criticised Cats coach Chris Scott who completely flummoxed the Swans by moving Patrick Danger- field (below) from his usual role as follower to full forward, where he created havoc for Sydney that spread from their defensive line through the ruck all the way to
their own forwards.
It was a ‘worldie’ from Scott that could have misfired spectacularly, but instead he broke a three-game losing streak against the Swans of 46, 37 and 38 points.
The Swans and coach John Longmire simply had no answer. The game was over at half-time with the Cats leading by six goals and many of the Swans stars like Buddy Franklin M.I.A.
Dangerfield, the 2016 Brownlow Medal winner, kicked 4.3 while Franklin’s meek effort was 0.3. No Swan kicked more than a single.
Scott refused to take the credit for the master stroke explaining the decision to play Dangerfield in attack had been a collective call by
the Cats’ coaching team that was made early in the week.
“You want your best players in the game putting your opposition on the back foot,” said the two-time premiership winner post-match.
“It doesn’t always work that way, but (playing Dangerfield forward) got our guys believing that when we got the ball forward, that we had a pretty potent threat up there.
“It obviously destabilises the opposition as well.”
The Swans’ loss was their first to any team other than Hawthorn since they opened the season 0-6.
Longmire said nothing his team tried seemed to work.
“We had things in place,” he said, “we didn’t get them done as well as what we could have.
“We tried a number of things, we weren’t efficient at getting those things we wanted to get done completed. It was just one of those nights.”
Like last year’s Grand Final.
“Those nights” are becoming a habit for the Swans.
Sydney however will be represented in the final four as GWS turned around a 36-point defeat last week to the Crows to smash West Coast 125-58.
In this week’s preliminary finals GWS will meet Richmond while Adelaide host the Cats.
One thing is certain, unlike last year it will not be a team from the bottom half of the eight taking the flag with the four remaining teams those who finished first to fourth after the regular season.
That isn’t the case in the NRL where the eighth placed finishers, North Queensland Cowboys defeated the fourth placed Parramatta Eels 24-16 to reach the final four.
In the other semi-final Brisbane edged out Penrith 13-6 to keep their season alive, for one more week at least.
Unlike last weekend, which was mired in ‘Bunker’ controversy, the biggest talking points of the weekend were the finals spirit of the Cowboys, who are without their star playmaker Johnathan Thurston, and the injury toll of the Broncos who finished with just one player on the bench.
Kandy require a bonus point win at home to Bahrain next week if they are to be the first non-UAE team to lift the Western Clubs Champions League after an entertaining 29-29 draw with Abu Dhabi Harlequins in Sri Lanka.
It could have been victory for Sean Wijesinghe’s side after Lavanga Perera dived over for a try in the final minute but Arshad Jamaldeen’s touchline conversion struck an upright to leave the sides level.
It means Quins are in the driving seat to retain the title they won last year, but Kandy can join them on eight points with a try-scoring bonus point win at home to visiting Bahrain next Friday.
It is a position Kandy coach Wijesinghe thought was not possible for his side.
“I’m looking forward to the next game and we have a good chance to win and with it the title, which would be the first time,” said the Kandy coach.
“It would be a great thing for the club and country as we have never done this before. I think it will be a good game and with a better crowd too as people think we have a chance and will start believing in us. I don’t think they ever thought we would do this well.”
Kandy trailed throughout the game, down 29-17 at one point near the end, but Wijesinghe was proud of his squad – who featured five schoolboys and were depleted by a number of senior players away with the national team.
“I was happy with our debutants, especially the schoolboys we had playing,” added Wijesinghe.
“Out of our 23-man squad, 15 were on the bench last year so it was good to give them game time. They showed heart and guts to go up against a bigger side. I’m happy but we have a lot to improve on.
“Quins had a great start. Out boys took a lot of time to settle down. But a try and a penalty gave us a bit of confidence and after that we started playing our natural game.
“We gave Quins a few easy tries though and we have to look into that and see what part of our systems didn’t work well. I’m happy with the result but we have to work on our systems.”
Mike McFarlane’s visitors scored first straight from kick-off in Nittawela when Kandy made a mess of collecting the high ball. Eventually a scrum was awarded five metres out and scrum-half Andrew Semple fed fly-half Joe Teasdale who went over the whitewash to score.
Semple potted the extras and then a pentalty to make it 10-0 before Thilina Wijesinghe reduced the gap with a three-pointer.
Anurudda Wilwara got Kandy back in touch with a try in the left corner and the scores were tied up when Wijesinghe converted impressively.
Captain Ben Bolger finished off a forwards move just before the break to re-establish Quins’ lead – Semple converting to make it 17-10 to Quins at the break.
A superb run from Wilwara early in the second half drew the hosts level again – stepping three defenders on his way to the line, with Wijesinghe making no mistake from the tee.
Two quick tries though for Quins put them in control. Former Abu Dhabi Saracens man Sean Stevens finished off an excellent move with Semple’s conversion making it 24-17 and it was soon 29-17 when full-back Jona Marshall exploited a gap to dive over at the left corner – Semple was just wide with his kick.
A penalty try gave the hosts a glimmer of hope inside the final 10 minutes to leave them five points adrift. It was beyond 80 minutes when Perera dived over out wide in a final flourish, but Jamaldeen’s kick, although it had the distance, came back off the right post to leave Kandy content with a draw.