Dubai schoolboy Tom Stapley plans trip to train with Ulster after mixing it with the men at Exiles

The Jumeirah College pupil made his first appearance for the Exiles senior side in Bahrain two weeks ago. That continued a family trend.

Dubai Exiles' Tom Stapley pushes past the tackle of Doha's Gregory Evans during their West Asia Championship match at The Sevens in Dubai on January 29, 2016. Christopher Pike / The National

Job ID: 42513

Reporter: Paul Radley

Section: Sport

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DUBAI // A Dubai schoolboy who once aspired to playing football professionally is now eyeing the possibility of a similar path in rugby.

As a promising goalkeeper, Tom Stapley trained with a variety of English football league clubs in his youth.

Having impressed after graduating to senior men’s rugby with Dubai Exiles, he is now planning for a trip to train with the academy of Ulster in Northern Ireland.

The inside centre was recommended to the province by his coach at the Exiles, Jacques Benade, who worked there before moving to the UAE last summer.

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“It is a huge dream of mine to play rugby at the top standard,” said Stapley, who was back playing for his school side against British School Al Khubairat on Thursday, on his 18th birthday. Six days earlier he had played a starring role in the Exiles’s win over Doha, the region’s leading side, in the West Asia Championship.

“It is good fun, I enjoy the more physical side to it, and it is hugely different to schoolboy rugby,” said Stapley, who still plays football when his rugby commitments permit. “It is a massive step up in terms of the physicality. It is not easy.”

The Jumeirah College pupil made his first appearance for the Exiles senior side in Bahrain two weeks ago.

That continued a family trend.

It is 21 years since his father, Pete, made his own Exiles debut in the same fixture, having not played rugby before his job in teaching brought him to the Middle East.

Mother Annie also won the 1996 Dubai Rugby Sevens as part of the club’s women’s side, and older brother Jack played for the club before heading to the UK for university. Ahead of his debut, Annie had posted a Facebook message saying: “Dad very proud, mum nervous.”

“He had already been exposed to a high level of age-grade rugby and that made the decision to allow him to play men’s rugby easier,” Pete Stapley said.

“There was still a sense of trepidation. Compared to when I was playing years ago, the top tier of club rugby has moved on a long way, all the players are faster, fitter and stronger.

“He has been accepted very quickly as just another player at the club. The nature of a good, solid rugby club is that people have always got your back. That eases the nerves.”

The fact Benade deemed him worthy of selection for the first XV in the first place was probably qualification enough that he was ready.

Stapley had not played age-group rugby at his club for over a year, opting to focus on his studies and the school side instead.

Benade encouraged him to attend training with the men’s side after being his opposition coach in his role as director of rugby at Dubai College.

“Tom is a young boy, a schoolboy who started training with us at the end of December and he is growing in confidence,” Benade said.

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