Development officer to sow seeds for school rugby in Garden City

Sami Smara, a former Tunisian international and Arabic speaker, has been tasked with developing the sport in Al Ain.

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UAE Rugby has made a move to challenge football's monopoly in Al Ain by appointing an Arabic-speaking development officer to oversee the growth of the oval-ball code in the Garden City.

Sami Smara, a former Tunisian international, has been tasked with developing the sport in Al Ain's schools, particularly within the Emirati community.

"Sami's appointment comes at a great time to broaden our introduction of the game of rugby to the Emirati community," Qais Al Dhalai, UAE Rugby's deputy secretary, said.

"Our pre-season planning and development is underway and since starting he has assisted at a recent HSBC Dubai Schools Pathway Programme with good effect."

The ruling body have made it a priority to bring more indigenous players to the game, yet have been without any Arabic-speaking rugby staff since parting company with Ghaith Jalajel, the Jordan hooker who was a development officer for the Arabian Gulf then the UAE, last year.

Smara is the third new recruit in the development department, under the guidance of Wayne Marsters, the UAE rugby manager. Tom Hatfield is in charge of Abu Dhabi, while Ben Van Rooyen oversees Dubai.

It is telling that the Arabic speaker has been charged with Al Ain. The Garden City has a wealth of sports lovers, though almost exclusively for football. While the city's football team won the Pro League last season, the Amblers rugby club struggled, finishing last in the domestic competition.

It is hoped the introduction of Smara may help bring some converts from the round-ball game.

"Sami was recently introduced at the club and was an instant hit with local lads," Kit Philp, the Al Ain Amblers chairman, said.

"Through his appointment they feel very comfortable in bringing their friends along and introduce them to the game."

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& Paul Radley