Sevens rugby legends Waisale Serevi and Ben Gollings are excited about the future of rugby in the UAE.
The duo hosted two coaching sessions with UAE youngsters in Al Ain and Dubai this week in their roles as HSBC rugby ambassadors, and were impressed by what they saw.
The popularity of rugby is on the rise within the UAE, thanks largely to the introduction of the all-Emirati Shaheen Pathway programme, which has helped boost numbers of youngsters in schools playing rugby to more than 3,000.
Fijian Serevi is widely regarded as one of the finest sevens players ever, while Englishman Gollings is the HSBC Sevens World Series’ record points scorer (2,652).
At Dubai’s Rashid School for Boys yesterday and Al Ain Rugby Club the previous day, they were coaching players from the UAE schoolboy teams who will be appearing at the Dubai Rugby Sevens next weekend.
Serevi said: “I’m really encouraged by what I’ve seen the last few days. We’re trying to get the kids to have fun while learning rugby, that’s what it’s all about.”
He thinks the future is bright for Emirati rugby. “Five or 10 years ago there were minimal Emirati’s playing rugby, now there’s more than 3,000, playing in more than 20 schools.”
Gollings, a partner in the Fijian’s Serevi Rugby initiative, which aims to raise awareness in countries where the game is less popular, added: “It’s been quite exciting, they’ve got some great skills.
They work hard and decision making is good. “They love contact too, which are all good ingredients for learning how to play rugby. They have plenty of energy and they’ve impressed us quite a lot.”
One player who is a testament to the success of the Shaheen programme already is Yousif Lashkari, a pupil at Al Wuheida School, Dubai.
The 18 year old won a young talent award at the inaugural UAE Rugby Annual Awards earlier this year. He had previously established himself at international level, playing for the UAE at the Asian 7s last year, while he was also part of the team that finished third at the Al Ain 7s last month.
Lashkari, who was on the sidelines in Dubai yesterday to provide encouragement to Emirati youngsters, was spotted two years ago at a similar HSBC sponsored event, so he knows the significance of such sessions.
The last year has really helped him tom focus on what he wants from the future.
He said: “It was great (to win the UAE rugby award), it helped me push myself even more, when training and playing. It gave me the motivation and drive to become even better.” He also said it is a special feeling to represent the UAE.
“I am happy to take the UAE flag and play for the national team. I feel something special inside to play for the UAE and I want to be UAE captain in the future.”
He added: “I want to prove myself more in rugby and I want to hurry up and finish school so I can put all my time into rugby. Now I have exams but I run away from exams for rugby training.”
Know more about Sport360 Application