Combined UAE-Israel teams to feature in rugby 'friendship tour'

Israel team will arrive this week as part of normalisation of ties between the countries

UAE have not played a Test match since May 2019 when they defeated Guam, in blue, and Thailand to win the Asia Rugby Championship Division Two. Courtesy Asia Rugby
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The first international rugby fixture between UAE and Israel will be followed by a game between scratch sides made up of a mixture of Emirati and Israeli players.

Israel will arrive this week for what the two unions are terming a “friendship tour”, ahead of a programme of seven-a-side matches at Dubai Sports City on Friday, March 19.

The all-Emirati UAE side will play against Israel’s national Olympic sevens team in four-quarters of a game in rugby’s abridged format.

The players will then be mixed into two new teams, to be known as Israel-UAE Blue and Israel-UAE White, for three more segments of matches.

Mohammed Al Zaabi, a UAE Rugby Federation board member, says the matches have been arranged to reflect the normalisation of ties between the countries since last August.

He says the series will show “sport reinforces its important role in the historic Abraham Accords peace agreement between the two countries”, and hopes it can help improve rugby in UAE and Israel.

“We hope very soon to do our part with such a visit to Israel, and can give our women’s team the opportunity to play a match against Israel in Tel Aviv,” Al Zaabi said.

“For our future vision, we are eager to grow this relationship with the Israeli federation and the national teams there, to share expertise between all the teams. We hope it will improve both our levels.”

Offer Fabian, the president of the Israel rugby union, says the travelling contingent are looking forward to making history.

“We will be the first national team to benefit from the Abraham Accords, and I can think of no sport better to serve the purpose of bringing our countries together than rugby,” Fabian said during a Zoom press conference organised by the two federations.

“It is a sport where aggressive competitiveness is matched by sportsmanship and camaraderie on and off the pitch.

“I would like to thank our friends in the United Arab Emirates for being our friends and making this happen. I look forward to making history.”

Apollo Perelini, the UAE coach, has proposed naming the cup that the sides will play for the Abraham Accords Challenge Trophy, and wants it to become an annual fixture.

The former Samoa international has been preparing his players since January, with the domestic game – in a modified form in response to Covid safety precautions – having returned in recent weeks.

The UAE side toured Egypt for the Arab Sevens last month, and Perelini said his players are eager to return to the field for this encounter.

“We want to bring the two countries together with the true rugby values of solidarity and respect,” Perelini said.

“It is exciting and I know my players are looking forward to it.”

Kevin Musikanth, Israel’s coach, echoed his opposite number’s sentiments.

“When I reached out to Apollo, he was hugely favourable to the idea of a friendship tour,” Musikanth said.

“After months and months of Zooms, we are two days away [from travelling to Dubai]. We want to make something really special happen playing the great sport of rugby.”

The matches will be livestreamed on the UAE Rugby Federation’s Facebook page.