From sand to super turf, rugby in UAE has evolved

The Dubai Dragons picked the wettest day of the year to make their debut on their new artificial pitch at Jebel Ali.

Dubai Dragons hosted Abu Dhabi Harlequins in their first game on the all-weather surface at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence last Friday. A match the Dragons won 17-15.
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First they had to make do with sand, either rolled by a tractor or naturally flattened when the tide went out, with oil dripped to mark the lines.

Then, thanks to a substantial outlay by sponsors, or by borrowing a field from the local football team, they were afforded grass to play on.

Now, some of the UAE's rugby players have the luxury of being able to play on a Third Generation, artificial grass pitch with rubber-crumb in-fill.

The Dubai Dragons played their first home game on the newly-laid all-weather surface at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence, when they hosted Abu Dhabi Harlequins last Friday.

The artificial pitch is similar to that used by the national team in Hong Kong, one of the UAE's Asian Five Nations rivals, where the average annual rainfall of 2,400mm contrasts markedly with 120mm here.

Ironically, the Dragons picked the soggiest day of the year for the first game at their new home field.

The match was played in incessant rain but the pitch played perfectly.

"Our expectation before playing on it was that it might have been a little hard, but it was brilliant to play on," Trent Eastgate, the Dragons centre, said. "It had rained a lot but you couldn't tell. There were no puddles, it was perfect. There are no grass-burns and it is better for the body as well because the impact is softer."

The Dragons have been able to train on the pitch previously, but home advantage counted for little as they went down 17-15 despite holding a healthy half-time lead.

"There probably is a difference [between the artificial surface and grass] but the torrential rain made it tough to tell," Alistair Thompson, the Quins coach, said.

"It was very wet, but the surface seemed to play well and our boys had no complaints. If we had to play on astroturf again and get that result, we would take it."

The defeat meant the Dragons remain bottom of the Gulf Top Six competition. However, they return to a competition in which they have a 100 per cent record, when they face Al Ain Amblers at the Palm Sports Resort in the UAE Premiership this afternoon.

The top two sides will play off for the title at the end of the season, and Quins will try to maintain their outside chances when they host Muscat at Zayed Sports City.