Tuesday, October 8, 2013

UAE’s ‘Shaheen’ style rugby causing ripples in HSBC Asian Sevens Series

UAE scored a historic win against Uzbekistan in the Thailand Sevens fielding all Emiratis for the first time. (SUPPLIED)

UAE Rugby created history in the second leg of the HSBC Asian Seven Series when they beat Uzbekistan 21-12 in the Shield semifinal in the Thailand Sevens fielding an all-Emirati side for the first time.

The significance of this epoch win has served as a catalyst to attract more Emirati youth to play rugby.

It has also vindicated the UAE Rugby Federation's (UAERF) landmark decision to go with Emirati players in the four-leg Asian Sevens Series as they gear up to participate in the Asian Games next year and qualifying for the Olympic Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro where Sevens Rugby has been introduced for the first time.

These are exciting times for UAE Rugby with the HSBC Player Pathway Program unearthing hidden talent from schools to feed the national team project which has given Emiratis the chance to showcase their new-found skills on the international stage.

"This was our dream to make all Emirati players in the national team. It's my own dream to be captain of UAE in first tournament with only Emirati players," said Yousef Shaker, captain of the UAE national sevens rugby team.

"It was a dream come true. Now we have other dreams... to win something for UAE which has given us a lot of things. We have to give back something from our heart. We're working hard towards that goal and Insha Allah (God willing) we will achieve our dream," said Yousef who has set his sights on UAE achieving a top-four ranking in the Asian Sevens Series within the next two years.

The UAE rugby stalwart takes pride in the fact that their national side contains all Emiratis now whereas the best team in Asia - Japan - has a player from Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. 

"When I heard all Emiratis will be playing in the tournament, there were tears of joys in my eyes," said Yousef who expressed his gratitude to the expatriate rugby community for helping them reach this level.

UAERF has certainly created ripples in Asian Rugby by fielding a full Emirati squad for the Asian Sevens Series this season.

"In Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia Sevens) they were surprised by other teams. They saw the difference between club rugby and international level. We had eight playing for the first time at international level. But they showed improvement in Thailand with many players even scoring tries," said Yousef who lauded Fijian Epeli Lagiloa, UAE's Rugby Performance Manager, for planting the seeds of success.

"The first advice he gave us was to play from our heart for UAE and stressed on the importance of fitness," revealed Yousef.

"Thanks to UAERF for giving the chance to Emiratis. We took 11 players to Kuala Lumpur. Emad Reyal was there just to give the boys the experience because coach wanted a playmaker. In Kuala Lumpur we did not do well because of lack of experience. But for Thailand, coach said we should take all Emiratis. This time we showed Asia how we are progressing," said Mohammed Shaker, Manager of the UAE national team.

"It was a great opportunity for the boys especially for 17 year-old Abdulla Al Hajri. Despite having seen rugby for a long time, it shocked me to see how our boys played," said Mohammed, one the pioneers of UAE rugby.

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