AL AIN // The fixture between Saracens, the champions of England, and their Fijian equivalents, Nadroga Stallions, has been cancelled as Al Ain Amblers, the hosts, feared the potential costs could cripple their club.
The English Premiership side will still travel to the UAE next month as planned, however, and will link up with the Abu Dhabi based club of same name.
“It’s disappointing that the match will not take place,” said Mark McCall, the director of rugby for the London club. “But we are very much looking forward to visiting this special part of the world and to having a positive impact on the UAE rugby community.”
Like the vast majority of UAE based clubs, the Amblers exist on a shoestring budget. Since the fixture was officially announced, a new committee have been voted in to run the club, and immediately undertook an assessment into the financial liabilities involved in staging the match.
According to their review, the costs incurred if they did not attract the projected number of spectators could push the club to the brink of extinction.
“At the end of the day, we have to look after the interests of a tiny club over here, that survives on volunteers putting their own time in,” said Kit Philp, the new Amblers chairman. “Our egos might be a bit battered, but we have survived. If we continued going down the road we were potentially heading down, we would have lost our club.
“Our rugby club is an important part of our community. They are without a shadow of a doubt the best grounds in the Middle East, I would say. To risk that for the sake of not much gain, I thought was too big.”
Although they will not play their exhibition match, which was scheduled to be staged on the impressive grounds of Palm Sports Resort, the home of the Amblers, Saracens will still travel to the UAE.
The club, who hoped to open “a new frontier” by way of their trip here, will spend five days in the capital from March 6, strengthening their association with the Abu Dhabi Saracens.
The tour party will include all of the English side’s leading players, barring those on Six Nations duty.
John Smit, the World Cup winning captain, and Schalk Brits are likely to attract much interest among the South African expatriate community, while Steve Borthwick is a former England captain.
In between their schedule of corporate activities, Abu Dhabi Saracens hope to attract the professionals from England to their Al Ghazal home ground for a training clinic.
“This has been a phenomenal season,” said Dave Jackson, the president and founder of the UAE Conference club, who are still in their first full season as a competitive side.
“We are looking forward to strengthening the ties between the Saracens from the UK, and the Saracens from Abu Dhabi.
“We want them to enjoy their time while they are out here, and help with our work with grassroots rugby in the community.”