West Asia Premiership: Dubai Tigers lay down roots at new home in view of Burj Al Arab

Defeat to Jebel Ali Dragons does not ruin the mood after grand opening of premises at Dubai’s Police Academy

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In the long and storied history of club rugby in the Middle East, the idea of having a home ground in “prime location” has basically meant any location.

Teams have always had to be creative when it comes to fulfilling fixtures. Back in the 1990s, Abu Dhabi’s leading club – then known as the Bats, now the Harlequins - played on a stretch of beach at low tide, with pitch markings drawn by volunteers using cups full of lime and a piece of string.

Dubai Hurricanes started life on a patch of grass next to the Meridien Mina Seyahi. Even today, some of the region’s most successful clubs play their matches in view of Jebel Ali Port, or the landfill site on the Al Ain Road.

On Saturday, though, top-tier rugby’s youngest club moved into its new premises, and immediately became the envy of everyone else.

The new home of Dubai Tigers has all the standard features of a rugby ground. They have converted the athletics track and football pitch within the confines of the Dubai Police Academy into two lush rugby fields.

There is a small stand at one end of one of the pitches. The changing facilities are repurposed shipping containers.

For their grand opening, there were three bouncy castles, as well as a shawarma station.

Then there was the feature which sets the ground apart from any other: namely, an unimpaired view of the Burj Al Arab.

“You can’t beat the view,” said Shane Thornton, the Tigers’ chairman. “Everyone is trying to get a photo with that in the shot.”

Thornton’s team have led a nomadic existence since he started nearly seven years ago. They have called Dubai Sports City home in the past, and also played matches at The Sevens earlier this season, having vacated Dubai College (DC), just a drop kick away from their new home, last season.

Work started on the Police Academy project back in November. Thornton says the initial agreement is for five years at the new site, but hopes it lasts as a permanent home.

“It can be hard to plan,” he said. “It has been six to seven years that I have been trying to find land to build something.

“It happened that we could come in here and do this. We got on this and just went for it. It is good for our club, but also for the community to come down here and watch.

“We have to thank DC for what they have done for us. They are just down the road and, although we have moved on from that, they played a big part in our club.

“It has grown. Now we have moved on to our next step, and let’s see how this works out for the club. I’m sure it will just keep growing.”

The only thing that did not go right on a triumphant grand opening was the final result of a packed day of matches.

The West Asia Premiership title-chasing Tigers men’s team lost out to a resurgent Jebel Ali Dragons, 29-18, thanks to two tries by Brad Janes, and one apiece for Diarmuid Carr and Josh Britland.

The status of the opposition for the first game at the Police Academy ground was a coincidence, given the Dragons was Thornton’s club before he set up the Tigers.

“By the time we got everything up and running in terms of the toilets and the changing facilities, this was the senior game, but it didn’t matter who it was,” he said.

“It is good to get started. We had the kids down here all morning. As a club, we try to bring the youth through, so to have them here for the curtain raiser is great.”

The Tigers now has nearly 500 members between its age group and senior sides, and Thornton hopes there are more potential recruits among their new neighbours.

“Hopefully we can work with [the police based at the academy] and help get them into rugby as well,” he said.

“That is our big goal. If they could get a rugby team going, that would be a different onus, and we have great coaches on board who are keen to help out.

“They are all here on site so it is a case of getting into them and saying, ‘Who is up for this? Come and train with us.’

“I want to help the Police out. It is about giving something back to the community as well.

“If we can get their kids down here and playing as well, it could bring the whole community together.”

Updated: February 18, 2023, 5:54 PM