Hassan Al Noobi is enjoying a debut season to be proud of with the Arabian Knights.
The Emirati has assumed a new position and kicking duties for the UAE Conference side, proving himself to be a promising player while breaking the 100-point barrier.
“I have got a lot better because they have given me a chance and allowed me to be free on the pitch,” Al Noobi revealed. “I feel very good because my team-mates have supported me, even when I have made mistakes. They are not shouting at me, they have let me be free.”
While the highlights have been many, Al Noobi is in no doubt what represents his lowest moment of the campaign.
“Oh, I felt very bad,” the 26-year-old says with a sigh as he reflects on the afternoon he came face-to-face with former club Xodus Wasps.
Having crossed Dubai last summer Al Noobi wanted to put on a show. Instead he left the action injured just a few minutes into the second half as the Knights went on to lose 46-25.
But though the club failed to push themselves into the top half before the Conference split in two this week, their converted full-back has been impressive.
Even if he admits 15 was not the number he wanted on his back at the start of the season.
“The coaches told me ‘Hassan, let’s try and play 15’. I played 15, scored two tries and they told me ‘Hassan, this is your best position’,” he remembered.
“I was not happy at first trying to play 15 but I played there and now I see that it is my best position.”
UAE Rugby Manager, Wayne Marsters, has watched Al Noobi develop from a Shaheen to national XVs player, and he’s a fan.
He said: “He was one of the first guys when I arrived back in the country (from Iran in 2011) that I thought showed some ability and some real talent. He’s very comfortable on the ball, has some ball skills and has played a lot of XVs.”
The UAE Rugby Federation (UAERF) hope they have taken another step towards making the sport in the country more sustainable after a trio of players became the first Emiratis to earn their coaching and refereeing stripes.
The International Rugby Board’s (IRB) recent ‘superweek’ in Dubai gave the UAERF an opportunity to put Yousef Shaker, Cyrus Homayoun and Jasim Al Suwaidi on the path towards a post-playing career.
Rugby’s governing body put on a wide spectrum of sessions – ranging from introductory courses to those aimed at the people who produce coaches – with Shaker and Homayoun achieving their IRB Level 1 coaching badge and Al Suwaidi attaining the same standard in refereeing.
UAERF Rugby Manager, Wayne Marsters, believes the game’s development in this country depends on Emiratis taking up positions off the field.
“Obviously we’ve had priorities in the past, and that has been players and getting our player pathway programme together,” he told Sport360°.
“But we’ve always known that to make that sustainable they need to take ownership of it and have referees and have coaches and strength and conditioning coaches. So the opportunity sort of fell into our lap a little bit with the superweek being on and us being able to make a big step in one week.”
Shaker and Homayoun are familiar faces on the UAE scene, having played for their country in both sevens and XVs, and had long been earmarked as potential coaches.
The same could not be said for Al Suwaidi, whose own rise from Xodus Wasps prop to qualified referee caught his peers a little more off-guard. Having attended an introductory session that included a section on officiating, the front-row forward, who works as a Sharjah policeman, decided to return the following day and enrol on the full course.
“It was both pleasing and surprising,” admitted Marsters. “He’s coming back from a knee reconstruction at the moment so wants to be involved and hasn’t been able to play this season. But he has already played in his own right at UAE Premiership level for Wasps and he’s maybe got a bit more experience of the laws than some of the others.”
Marsters is confident the three Emiratis can use their newfound knowledge to encourage more local talent to take up rugby. Ideally starting with the UAE’s new under- 19 and under-20 Emirati sides.
“The idea is to make use of [their qualifications] probably in the system we run with Emiratis,” he said. “There are more vehicles now for them to be involved with Emirati coaching and refereeing because of the development we are making at the under-19 and under-20 level.”
The Dubai Rugby Festival came to a fitting end as the U13s Dubai Hurricanes grabbed a tight 12-10 win over the Dubai Exiles in the weekend’s final game.
Thousands of rugby lovers flooded into the Sevens complex over the course of the weekend that saw a feast of action.
The spirit of rugby was what the travelling hoards will take away from the tournament while many of the players will have made memories they will never forget.
As the weekend wound down, people made their way to Pitch 3 where the Canes and Exiles squared off in the U13s final. It was perhaps fitting that the two sides met with both clubs arguably the most impressive over the course of the weekend – with the two winning eight trophies between them, more than any other club.
Patrick Dowling and Chris Assimacopoulos scored the tries for the victorious Hurricanes in the 12-10 win with Keanu Boucher’s conversion ending up being decisive.
“It was a very tight game considering we beat the Exiles 36-0 in the group stage,” said Canes coach Greg Boucher. “We made some changes and we were on the ball.
“The teams down in the 13s are so close, the tournament could have been anyone’s, it was really tight. This year the players have gone up a few notches.”
The Dubai Exiles arguably have the strongest youth programme in rugby in the UAE. But perhaps their strongest youth squad is their U12s. With the all-conquering U18s team – that went 10 years unbeaten – soon entering the senior realm, the U12s can now stake a claim.
The youngsters not only won their tournament yesterday, they did so without conceding a try. Their final against Bahrain was never in doubt despite the extremely competitive nature of the game and the physical game employed by the Bahrainis.
Winning 30-0, the Exiles once again made short work of a tough opponent. Tries from Ben Hatcher, Keenan Prinsloo, Stephen McConnachie, Seb Snoas, George Boon and Joel Harrison did the damage while Boon took the Man of the Matchaward that could have gone to anyone of the team.
Taking a rampant 20-0 half time lead, the Exiles held off a strong Bahrain team, staying perpetually camped in their opponent’s half while making full use of the wings with superb offloads.
“We went six matches and didn’t concede,” said coach Mark Harrison. “What I really like about the U12s is they really play as a team and they really represent the spirit of playing rugby. They play for each other, they play fair and they work very hard. There’s no individuals, they’re a team and they’ll do great things.
“Our boys were good and they’re a great bunch of kids who have been together for five or so seasons.”
The Exiles are, of course, the oldest club in the UAE but they are starting to find competition from some of the new ones. The Al Ain Amblers impressed at various age groups and finished the weekend with a pair of Plate gongs and came so close to winning a trophy when they played the Abu Dhabi Harlequins at U16 level.
Boasting a host of local Emirati players, the less experienced Amblers pushed the Quins hard but came out 10-0 losers.
The Quins got their winning play with virtually the last touch of the ball in the first half and early on in the second.
Michael Salusala (No8) ran the ball in for a 5-0 lead before openside flanker Robbie Law made sure the trophy went back to Abu Dhabi.
“I thought we put a really good fight,” said Amblers coach Craig Dixon. “What I said to the boys is that we only have about 13 of our regular players – so we had some U14s with us. We didn’t expect to get this far but through sheer team spirit, determination and skill we managed to get to the final which is a major achievement for us.”