Junior Rugby Festival: Exiles’ young guns are too strong for Knights
The Dubai Exiles beat Arabian Knights in a tournament for under-10s held during the Etihad Airways Junior Rugby Festival at Zayed Sports City on Friday.
The Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Harlequins Junior Rugby Tournament has been running for seven years, and Harlequins chairman Andy Cole said the development of the sport amongst the youth in the UAE has been huge.
“On Friday, there were over 2,000 children from under-5s to under-18s, boys and girls, plus siblings and families; so there were about 3,000 people,” Cole said.
“We had teams from throughout the Middle East - from Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the whole of the UAE - plus a team from Wales.
“As the country grows, the sport grows as well, but I think rugby has grown exponentially to the growth of the UAE.”
HSBC - the presenting sponsor - had a skills test field installed where children worked on their passes and tweaked their technique under the guidance of expert coaches.
The front pitches played host to the boy’s under-14s and under-16s while the back pitches hosted the girl’s under-18s, as well as the boy’s under-10s, under-11s and under-12s teams.
Each child received a goodie bag that included a water thermos, a t-shirt, a certificate, and a medal, while the top three teams in every age group also received another medal and a trophy.
“The festival was amazing. It was fun to come here, it’s a really big place,” said Seb Snaas, from the under-10 Dubai Exiles winning team.
“I’m starting to really like Zayed Sports City. Some of the matches were really tough and I’m proud and happy that we won in the end.”
Cole revealed that more locals were getting involved in rugby although he admitted that while there definitely has been progress, a lot more needs to be done, particularly from the government’s side.
“Slowly locals are starting to pick it up. We’ve got a couple of local Arabic schools who are coming down and practising. From the Northern Emirates we’ve got over 50 registered UAE national players now.
“Here, in Abu Dhabi, in the younger age groups we have a number of Emiratis who haven’t broken into senior rugby yet, but over the coming years we’ll see more and more.
“What we want is to see the government get behind it and put it in schools. In Dubai, we have eight UAE national schools playing. Princess Haya is very much behind this - amongst a variety of sports for the children - and she’s been very instrumental in helping us.
“The Abu Dhabi Sports Council have been involved in this tournament for the first time, which is great. It helps when they can see 2000 children running around, and they can see that it’s a sport that everyone can play.”