The UAE Falcons rugby league team will take on Liban Espoir, the Lebanese national development team, at The Sevens Stadium in Dubai today. It is the first of a double-header against Espoir, with a second game on Monday evening. The Falcons' director of development Sol Mokdad, who also plays as prop, hopes the games will act as a great showcase for the sport, which is still in its infancy in the Emirates.
"The match is as much for development of the sport as our preparation for a domestic championship later this year and our World Cup efforts. We're trying to get as many people involved as we can so we run a professional and successful league," he said. The clashes are a re-match following losses last year to Espoir and Saddleworth Rangers, of England - who will also visit next month - and Mokdad believes the UAE Falcons have come a long way since those encounters.
"We've been training twice a week the last four months - we didn't have that consistency last year. Then we only had a few training sessions before each match, this year we have had the time to put tactics in place," he said. Made up of Emirati, English, Lebanese and Australian players, among other nationalities, the UAE team are positively multicultural but they hope to have a higher number of UAE nationals as word of the game spreads.
"As a national team we'd like to name as many local players as we can, so we're looking to build on that," says Mokdad. "There are also a number of rugby league players in Dubai who have converted to union as there was no structured league here, but we're hoping now their season has finished they'll transfer to us." In order to qualify for the next World Cup in 2013, the UAE must take part in a local four-club tournament, which will kick off in the autumn, and play in selected international matches, possibly against Malta, Italy and India- Pakistan.