Rugby in Ras Al Khaimah is finally on the rise after a few barren years

Matt Jones - Editor 22:41 16/06/2017
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It’s perhaps not so surprising that in a transient place like the UAE where expats come and go, so do sports teams.

Rugby was played in Ras Al Khaimah as long ago as 1969 but in the 36 years between the RAK Goats (now officially Rocks) being fully established as a club and today, the team has come and gone.

The foundations of the first club in the region were established in 1982 but when it was re-established most recently in 2013, there had been no official club in the Emirate for seven years.

But after a lot of hard work from outgoing chairman Mike Silvester and a season of stability in 2016/17, the ambitious club is beginning to put down roots and dream big.

“We want to push the club forward. Ras Al Khaimah as an Emirate is really pushing itself forward and we see ourselves as an integral part of that,” said Rocks chairman Simon Williams, 48, after a positive season both off and on the Rocks’ notorious sand pitch at the Bin Majid Resort.

The Rocks finished fourth out of nine teams in the third-tier Community League with five wins from eight games, 11 points off a top two spot which would have earned them a spot in the play-off final.

“We’ve started a mini and youth section this season and we’re looking at getting a women’s side together too. And in the future we’ll look to get a UAE Conference side as well as a Community League team. That’s what we’re building to.”

This time last year there were fears for the club’s future with a lack of stability and seeming inability to lay down roots dogging any progress.

But, thanks to generous support and hard work from Silvester and a number of new faces, including Williams, the future is as bright as the sand the team plays on.

Simon Williams.

Simon Williams.

“It’s not been too difficult this season but we have to work with a barter system as we’re not set up properly as a club,” added Williams, a sales director for an IT company who has been in the UAE eight years.

“That’s how we’ve had to work, kind of borrow things off people. We get water given to us and the sponsors give us the pitch. It’s nice having that sand pitch, we don’t have to pay for it, it’s been a great stepping stone, a base.

“But we want to build on it. Want to get it all sorted this summer. Then we can get some sponsors and get ourselves set up properly as a business. Luckily we have some good people on board so it’s all positive.

“That’s what it was all about this season, building a platform. We’ve got somewhere we can call home, temporarily at least. In two or three years we’ll have a permanent grass pitch instead of sand.”

Cambridge native Williams, who also plays for Rocks, has lived in RAK for three years, but only came on board at the club last season.

Had it not been for his curiosity upon seeing the unfamiliar sight of rugby posts sticking up from the sand of the Bin Majid Resort as he was driving past, he might not now be in the position of being chairman.

“I’ve been at club this season, like a lot of the players,” he said.

“Bizarrely I drove past the ground and said ‘those look like rugby posts’. I thought I’d find out and that’s how I found out about the club. We had a good social side, we’ve really pushed hard on that this season and that’s generated a lot of interest.

“People found out about us through word of mouth and before we knew it we had quite a few people turning up. It’s how the Dubai Sevens started.”

Among the huge cast of local supporters has been RAK’s ruler, His Highness Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, even if it has come at the cost of RAK having to change their name from Goats to Rocks.

And with those ties proving to be a positive, Williams insists the club can put its transient days behind them.

“You speak to the Sheikh and he wants clubs as part of it and expats and Emirati-led sport,” said Williams, who added that further ties are being created with the local schools as well as a plan to introduce an Emirati rugby programme.

“He seems keen to support us, we’ll have to change the club name in order to get that, but once we get that and the kids on board, they’ll bring people on board.

“A lot of us at the moment are just old blokes having fun. But there’s a few young players and we don’t want to lose them, we want to develop them.

“There’s a lot of things we can’t talk about but it’s about getting the club set up as a proper business and bringing it forward. Sponsorship, an Emirati programme, getting schools engaged. We’ve been going into the schools and doing training with volunteer coaches, and we’ll try and get more into local schools.

“We’re working with the UAE Rugby Federation so they’re sending Emirati coaches into the school, RAK Academy. We’re working together and they’re learning.”

The most obvious sign of progress this season has perhaps been the club’s recognition in April at the UAE Rugby Annual Awards, at which Williams received the Fair Play Team of the Season on behalf of the club.

“It’s really good to see because there’s been a lot of work going on into building the club,” he said. “And being recognised for that work is something we’re very proud of.”

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