DUBAI // After a tournament of predictably lean pickings, the UAE signed off the Cup of Nations with something to cheer last night with the emergence of a new gem – as well as the long-awaited return of an old one.
Ross Combe, a 19 year old from Al Ain Amblers, capped a bright maiden campaign in national team colours with the only try of the tournament for the UAE.
Just as he was doing so, Duncan Murray was reacquainting himself with the international arena for the first time in 20 months.
The Dubai Hurricanes centre served a one-year suspension after testing positive for a banned stimulant which he consumed unwittingly via an over-the-counter energy drink.
Murray, formerly a professional in the UK before he moved to Dubai, conceded he felt emotional on his return to the side.
"It doesn't matter where you are from, you can be English, New Zealander, Emirati, anything - this is our country and we are proud to represent it," Murray said.
"It is probably the first time I have had that feeling, and it was very nice.
"It has revitalised my love for UAE rugby. I am just really annoyed I missed two tackles."
Murray, whose re-emergence came as a second-half replacement, had not been expecting this. In fact, at the start of this season he said he feared the national team may have moved on without him, never to return.
However, the representative side are light on numbers altogether, let alone players of his rich pedigree.
After meeting the management at the Jebel Ali Sevens last month, and following a variety of persuasive text messages this week, he was coaxed back into the fold.
He still had his doubts.
Forget about the fact the UAE were facing a Zimbabwe side ranked 30 in the world - 66 places above them in the IRB standings.
Murray's biggest concern ahead of his return was that the UAE's No 19 shirt would be baggy enough.
The figure-hugging outfits that are de rigueur in rugby these days are rarely suited to players who have spent 20 months on the sidelines.
"I was under no illusions," Murray said.
"Work has been so hectic and I am not fit enough at this level yet, but I want to give it a good go for the Asian Five Nations [in April] - 100 per cent."
While Murray gave a brief reminder of his merits, Combe impressed in giving a first glimpse of his this week.
The late try he touched down was due reward for a week of endeavor for a centre who trialled with London Wasps at the end of last season.
"I love rugby and it means a lot to represent UAE having lived here for the past 10 years," Combe said.
"I am glad I have been able to do it for these three games."
After two close defeats, Zimbabwe were happy to sign off with a comprehensive win.
"We have endless talent in Zimbabwe, and if we can put that all together we can become quite a force," said Brendan Dawson, their coach.