Like many expats, Chris Marshall’s stint in the UAE was supposed to be brief. Now he stands on the verge of winning an international rugby cap.
The Abu Dhabi Harlequins winger came to the Emirates for six-months in 2012. Three years later he’s still here and hoping to win a place in Roelof Kotze’s sevens squad for the Asian Sevens Series in a month’s time.
He’s also hoping to be part of the 15-a-side team too, having heard glowing reports of the UAE’s tour to Malaysia in May.
Now that he qualifies, Marshall wants to grab his international chance with both hands and play for the UAE in any format.
“I’d love to be involved with the 15s next year and I think they can win that league (Division II of the Asia Rugby Championship),” said Marshall.
“I spoke to Matt Hutchings at Saracens and Ed Lewsey at Quins and they both said how brilliant the Malaysia tour was.”
The Englishman, 25, qualifies for the UAE this year and has been training with the senior sevens squad for the last few weeks. He is desperate to be part of a UAE team hoping to break into Asia’s top six after finishing rock bottom of 12 teams in last year’s series.
“Our chances are good. We’ve got some outstanding expat and local players,” said Marshall, a former Newcastle Falcons sevens player.
“Hopefully we can combine the two to be competitive in these tournaments. We want to start climbing back up the ladder.”
The shortened format of the game is arguably his favourite and Marshall is part of the senior sevens team preparing for the Asian Sevens Series legs in Shanghai on September 5-6 and Colombo on October 11-12.
“The players certainly think that the top six is achievable,” said Marshall.
“We have to. It’s why we play, to get to that top level and against the likes of Hong Kong and China.
“With the players we’ve got that’s where we belong. There’s been a few lean years but this is something that’s growing and I think there’s real potential. We’re going to go there confident and believe we can win the tournament.”
Kotze, the UAE’s performance manager, has determined that both the senior and Under-20 UAE sides will be a blend of expat and Emirati players for the next few years after the UAE failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Marshall believes the combination of the two sets of players is a recipe for success.
“It’s a really good set-up to be involved with and there’s a lot of talent around. Hopefully we can put that onto the pitch,” said the Quins’ flyer.
“Given rugby’s not a major sport in the UAE, I’ve been blown away by some of the Emirati talent. There’s some serious and genuine talent coming through. That’s really struck me, there’s genuine potential.”
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UAE Rugby Federation and Dubai Sports Channel have signed an MoU to promote the game of rugby across the UAE.
Using the programmes and initiatives from UAE Rugby’s portfolio, Dubai Sports Channel will work together with the Federation to create localised rugby content which will be televised throughout the broadcast footprint of Dubai Sports Channel.
“We are very pleased to enter into this MoU with Dubai Sports Channel” said Qais Al Dhalai, UAE Rugby’s Secretary General.
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“Rugby has a long and successful history in the UAE and we are thrilled to be involved and oversee it’s continued growth. We are also very happy to see the growth, both in participation and interest, from the Emirati community.
"Together, Dubai Sports Channel and the Federation will work towards creating, producing and televising quality local rugby stories which will be enjoyed by all nationalities living in the UAE” he added.
Rashid Amiri, Director General of Dubai Sports Channel commented, “Dubai Sports Channel are proud and happy to enter into this MoU.
"We believe this will be very beneficial for both UAE Rugby and Dubai Sports Channel in promoting the game of rugby across our platform, this relationship will also offer Dubai Sports Channel a diverse demographic, crossing all cultures and demographics of the UAE.”
Qais Al Dhalai believes the re-introduction of expatriates to UAE sevens rugby will provide Emirati players with the “winning spirit” to succeed in the future.
Roelof Kotze, the UAE national team’s performance manager, announced last month that he was bringing back expats into the sevens fold after the UAE failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where sevens rugby will make its debut.
The UAE Under-20 side play two tournaments this month, in Malaysia and Hong Kong, while the senior side will appear at the Shanghai 7s and Colombo 7s in September and October respectively.
Al Dhalai, the secretary general of the UAE Rugby Federation, believes elite expat players will help local players progress as he looks ahead to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“We are very proud that the expats are joining the Emiratis” – Al Dhalai
“The 2016 Olympics is the past for us,” Al Dhalai told Sport360.
“We have not reached them. For the next Olympics in 2020, the board has decided we will have a mix of the top expatriate players. Those expat players will bring a winning spirit.
“They will do that for maybe the next two-and-a-half to three years until the pre-Olympic qualification begins and then the Emirati boys will step up on their own.”
International Olympic Committee and Olympic Council of Asia regulations stipulate that countries appearing in any event at the Olympics must feature players with passports from that country.
Expats would not be able to feature at the Olympics in the case of the UAE qualifying, but Al Dhalai says they can enhance the development of Emirati players and therefore their prospects of featuring in sevens at a future Games.
“The ultimate goal is the sevens team should be all-Emirati,” said Al Dhalai.
“It is a gradual process and will take three years, then the Emirati boys will depend on themselves. They will have the rhythm of winning games. They’ll have a winning character. We always think smartly and what is good for the players. We are very proud that the expat players are joining the Emirati boys.”