Despite a heavy 73-5 defeat in their opening Community League fixture, Mohammed Shaker is looking at the bigger picture for the UAE Shaheen team.
Their tentative first steps in the inaugural third-tier competition on Friday night were historic ones, the match against Jebel Ali Dragons 3rds the first time an all-Emirati 15-a-side team has played a competitive rugby match.
Shaker, a UAE Rugby Federation board member and chairman of the Shaheen programme, was one of only five Emirati players who met to throw a rugby ball around 10 years ago.
He has since immersed himself in promoting the game among locals, so Friday’s first foray into the Community League was an emotional evening for the 36-year-old.
“It was an historic moment. In 2005 we started with just five Emiratis, who had a dream to start an all-Emirati rugby team,” said Shaker.
“Now we have a team and Friday was an emotional thing for me, I cannot explain what it feels like to put 15 Emirati players onto a field in one team. It was like seeing a baby grow.”
Of course in tangible terms, the result was hardly encouraging. Shaker, however, knows it will take time for this team to gel and learn the game, but he believes they will be much improved for their trip to Al Ain Amblers 3rds on October 2.
“The result was disappointing but for most players they have only had three weeks of training and some are just picking up a rugby ball for the first time so it will take time.
“It is a good experience for them and we will get stronger match by match. I believe, in our next game, we will do better.”
Shaker’s love for the game was nurtured while studying in the UK 14 years ago. He attended university in Huddersfield in 2001 where he fell in love with a game in which men throw an egg-shaped ball around.
“I was studying in the UK and would watch the game a lot,” said Shaker, who would attend rugby league side Huddersfield Giants’ games at the Alfred McAlpine Stadium.
“I went there to watch the matches and I loved it.”
Shaker returned home to the UAE after four years in the UK, where his brother Yousef had been playing for the UAE Falcons. Together with youngest sibling Mohannad, they set about trying to popularise the game in the desert.
“We cannot stop, we have to encourage the local population to play rugby,” said Shaker.
“We are working closely with the UAE Rugby Federation, who are pushing us.
“Creating a team, in itself, is a huge step. In two years I think we will have two 15-a-side teams, while the player pathway programme is on the up too.”
For a nation of football lovers, Shaker believes it is all about changing attitudes.
“Emiratis know football, they don’t know rugby. It will take time to get them to change their attitudes,” he said.
“The Shaheen result is not important. The results will come but rugby culture is different to anything else in sport. They have the skills, speed and enthusiasm, now they just need the tactics and understanding.
“That’s what Apollo (Perelini, Shaheen head coach) will bring.
“It is step by step but the game is growing, definitely, and the only way is up.”
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre revealed that wing Yoann Huget is a major Rugby World Cup doubt after damaging his knee in Saturday’s 32-10 victory over Italy.
Huget limped off in the first half after sustaining an injury incurred when running with the ball and cutting inside and he will discover on Sunday if he is to play any further part in the tournament.
“The news over Huget isn’t very reassuring. He got injured on his own standing up and it could be ligament damage,” Saint-Andre said.
“There will be a medical check-up on Sunday morning and we’ll make a decision quickly once we know what the outcome of that.”
Props Rabah Slimani and Nicolas Mas crossed in a solid if not spectacular victory and Saint-Andre lamented France’s inability to finish with a try-scoring bonus point.
“It was physical and Italy were very good in defence. We know we can do better. I would have preferred to have finished with Yoann fit of course,” Saint-Andre said.
“The try-scoring bonus point would have been the icing on the cake, but we won so let’s look forward to Romania. We know we have to win all games to finish top of the game.”
Italy coach Jacques Brunel revealed that centre Andrea Masi ruptured his Achilles tendon and will miss the rest of the World Cup and possibly the remainder of the season.
“Masi broke the tendon and is the third centre we’ve lost in two weeks. It’s the latest in a series of events that leave us with a bitter taste in the mouth,” Brunel said.
That’s it. France 32-10 Italy. France never troubled, simply too strong for Italy. Louis Picamoles named MOTM. #FRAvITA
— Rugby World (@Rugbyworldmag) September 19, 2015
Italy were missing captain Sergio Parisse to a knee injury but Brunel refused to blame the absence of their talisman for the defeat.
“The loss of Parisse is of course an important factor, but I don’t think it’s the main reason for the defeat,” Brunel said.
“France deserved to win, but the scoreline doesn’t reflect the game we played. We didn’t understand the refereeing (at) the scrum.”
As news broke that Japan had completed the greatest shock in Rugby World Cup history by defeating South Africa, Twitter went into overdrive.
Japan had not won a World Cup game since 1991, while South Africa, winners in 1995 and 2007, had never before lost their opening fixture of the tournament.
Here, Sport360.com takes you through some of our favourite tweets.
– #RWC2015: Brown scores two tries as England beat Fiji 35-11
– #RWC2015: Where to watch in Dubai & Abu Dhabi
– #RWC2015: Interactive RWC Inforgraphic
– #RWC2015: Interactive RWC Stadium Guide
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 19, 2015
— James Dart (@James_Dart) September 19, 2015
Whenever the little guy beats Goliath, it so enriches our lives and let’s us all believe that the impossible is possible. Thank you Japan
— Daley Thompson (@Daley_thompson) September 19, 2015
Wow – biggest calls in history of World Cup – Japan no kicks for goal / totally best game ever in World Cup history – Eddie Jones brilliant
— Sir Clive Woodward (@CliveWoodward) September 19, 2015
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) September 19, 2015
Still cant believe that.. Huge win! Congrats Japan on their first ever World Cup win #RWC2015
— Matt Giteau (@giteau_rugby) September 19, 2015
A brilliant performance by Japan, simple as that. My heart still racing after that last few minutes. World Cups are great & no one is safe.
— Jonny Wilkinson (@JonnyWilkinson) September 19, 2015
— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) September 19, 2015
— Japan Rugby (@JRFURugby) September 19, 2015
— James Martin (@Pundamentalism) September 19, 2015