A new domestic rugby tradition was born on Friday night when RAK Rugby became the first winners of the Nick Young memorial trophy.
The side from the northern emirates beat Arabian Knights 57-14 at Sharjah Wanderers, in a fixture that had been arranged to honour the memory of their former player.
Players from the two clubs had been part of the same combined side when Young suffered a fatal head injury in a vets 10s tournament, on the adjacent field at Wanderers in April.
Both clubs were well represented in the crowd for the memorial match, as well as host club Sharjah, plus Dubai Hurricanes, who were the opposition when the accident occurred.
Louise Palmer, the chairwoman of the Knights, provided the golden trophy ahead of kick off. There is a picture of Young, taken when he was lining up for a team photo ahead of a match for RAK, in its stem. On the base is inscribed the words: “Never above you.”
It was quickly agreed that the trophy will be on the line every time the two sides meet in the future.
These two clubs may have a long-standing association for friendship, and are now bound by one particularly sorrowful memory. But that did not mean they went easy on each other in the first match with the memorial trophy at stake.
With provision for rolling subs, and places on the playing squads open to all club playing members no matter their standard, it felt ahead of the game as though it might be little more than a jolly. Maybe a glorified game of touch or scrag.
Not a bit of it. Rarely are domestic rugby matches in West Asia played in June. And it was not just the summery conditions that meant the respective physios were kept busy throughout the game.
“It turned into a very competitive game,” said Simon Williams, the RAK Rugby chairman.
“There were people coming to us saying they wanted to play, and the RAK guys said, ‘No, we want to keep this as a RAK team – and we want to put in a good performance as well’.
“Funnily enough, in saying it was a good game, a lot of the guys weren’t happy with how they performed.”
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Craig Chapman, the outgoing coach of RAK, had demanded such a performance from his side.
He had told his players ahead of kick off they needed to play hard, or risk both injury and failure to live up to the spirit in which Young would have played the game.
“When I first got involved with RAK, they were a social team, not a rugby team,” said Chapman, the former UAE prop who is set to move to Malaysia.
“I wasn’t there for that. I wanted to play serious rugby. What we have done this year [in the UAE Community League] has been with proper rugby players, young lads who wanted to play.
“As you can see from this, we are a proper team. The club is going upwards, so hopefully next year they will push on.”
Palmer said the Knights were delighted to be asked to provide the opposition for the occasion.
“When we take the field we understand the physicality of the game,” Palmer said.
“It is natural for tragedy to bring one another closer, and while Arabian Knights were with the RAK team on the day of the incident, it is even more important to remind the club that we are with them afterwards.
“We were honoured to be asked by RAK to return to that same field again in celebration of Nick’s life.”
Williams said Young’s memory will live on through the matches between Knights and RAK.
“When we accepted the trophy, we said that no-one really wanted to play this game, but we all wanted to honour Nick,” Williams said.
“It was very steamy. It was tough on both sides, but the sides did really well, and thanks again to Sharjah for putting this on and letting us play here. Nick’s name will live forever between these clubs.”