DuRandt Gerber: One-time Italy World Cup contender now adapting to life in UAE rugby

After spending a decade earning a living as a professional in Europe, DuRandt Gerber had a reality check on returning to the ranks of amateur rugby in the UAE last Friday.

DuRandt Gerber, right, moved to the UAE in the summer and has joined the Dubai Exiles. Grant Winter for The National
Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // After spending a decade earning a living as a professional in Europe, DuRandt Gerber had a reality check on returning to the ranks of amateur rugby in the UAE last Friday.

A yellow card on his UAE Premiership debut for Dubai Exiles in their rousing win over Jebel Ali Dragons meant a summons before the team’s kangaroo court.

For his indiscretion, the South Africa-born fly-half was ordered to pay Dh100 from his own pocket, which will go towards the team’s end-of-season kitty.

Even without the penalty imposed by his teammates, his new life was already significantly different to what had gone before.

Swapping Rome for Dubai at the height of summer and at the start of Ramadan was quite a cultural shift, but he is loving his new start.

“It has been a bit of an adaptation, but I am enjoying it,” said Gerber, 33, whose new job is at Fit Republik in Dubai Sports City.

“I’m enjoying work, working with great people which makes it easier. It has taken some adapting to get used to working hard all day, then getting to training, and just training twice a week.

“They are a bunch of good boys, so it has made it easy for me to fall into playing at the club. I feel at home with the guys.”

PODCAST: Scotland's speed can spring a surprise result against Springboks

Gerber, who is a fluent Italian speaker after nine years of living there, won three caps for Italy ‘A’ and was part of the 43-man training squad ahead of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

He did not make the final cut but “just before the World Cup I went home and got married, so it was all right,” he said.

“I had always wanted to just play rugby as a full-time profession. That was my main focus going over to Italy.

“Then after two or three years, it was mentioned that I could make it to the national side.

“I pushed a bit harder, got a chance, got three caps for the ‘A’ team. Although I didn’t make the full team, it was good fun. I really enjoyed it.”

Gerber’s arrival at the Exiles this summer was a major boost for a club who are the sleeping giants of UAE rugby.

After a period of transition, their youthful first XV have been trying to re-establish the Exiles as the team to beat in the game here, among some stiff competition.

It is a quest that will be greatly aided by the direction provided by a player of Gerber’s pedigree, according to Exiles director of rugby Jacques Benade.

“His attitude towards helping the boys has been brilliant,” Benade said.

“It is great to have players like that. At training, he is the guy who will be running at the front, working the hardest.

“Even if he is not a professional player at the moment, his attitude means he will be the best trainer.

“It is great for the younger players to see how hard he is still working.”

Local resources stretched to the limit

The opportunity to play recreational rugby in the Middle East will reach an all-time high this weekend, with 30 men’s teams scheduled to play competitive matches in the 15-a-side format.

The inception of the new Community League means there are more chances to play rugby, whatever standard the players are suited to, than ever before. It is the first time the new third-tier competition will be played on the same day as UAE Premiership and Conference matches.

Not so long ago, some of the biggest clubs had problems maintaining one side, let alone the three some of them will be trying to field this weekend. If each team had the full 22-man squad, admittedly unrealistic, there would be well over 600 players involved.

While this points to a game in good health in the region, the extra fixtures provide a strain on resources other than playing ones, too, notably the match officials.

The opening fixture of the UAE Premiership campaign today – the Abu Dhabi derby at Zayed Sports City – was staffed by just two qualified officials, with the other touchline run by a helpful volunteer on the night. And there were no other fixtures clashing with that.

To have a referee and two assistants at each match this weekend would require 45 officials. The list of registered, regularly available officials here extends to around 30.

As with playing for a club, these are unpaid positions, and the protagonists are just as beholden to the whims of the workplace and other availability variables.

All of this means the referees could do with a little understanding from players who might need reminding that there would not be a match without them.