Blooding local talent good for Arabian Gulf rugby over the long term

If expatriates can make it to the European club circuits from the rugby backwater in the Middle East, what is to stop an Arab national succeeding similarly?

Jonny Macdonald has made it big in rugby union after his stint in the UAE. Pawan Singh / The National
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Many of the best players in this region were born here and first picked up a rugby ball on a pitch – sand or grass – here.

Liam Frost, a mainstay of the Qatar side since its inception in 2011 and a leading light in the Arabian Gulf cross-border competition, is a perfect example.

He arrived in Doha with his family at six weeks old and represented England at schoolboy level. He might have had a professional rugby career were it not for serious injury.

He is not the only one to thrive from humble beginnings. Bahrain’s James Love plays professionally in the UK, Abu Dhabi’s Jonny Macdonald represented Scotland in the IRB sevens series while Dubai-raised Jordan Onojaife has played England under 18s and is on professional terms with a Premiership club. They all are from expatriate families. But if they can make it from this rugby backwater, what is to stop an Arab national succeeding similarly?

Some local rivalry should help. The fact that the UAE and Qatar will be pitted together in Asian competition may help the transition, if handled correctly.

“Qatar need to push the development of the game,” Frost said. “At the moment we are relying on guys who are good rugby players wherever they have come from but there probably needs more to be done in terms of bleeding players through.

“Maybe that is why the UAE has been struggling at present, but in the long term they will probably benefit from it.”

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