LONDON // Lawrence Dallaglio believes that the LV Cup match between Wasps and Harlequins in Abu Dhabi on January 30 is the perfect tonic for increasing interest in rugby union among the local Emirati population.
Dallaglio, who was speaking at the official launch of the fixture at Twickenham yesterday, has spent a lot of time in the UAE both as a player and as a global sports ambassador for Emirates Airlines. The former England No 8 won the World Cup in the 15-man game in 2003, and in Sevens a decade earlier.
"We know that the expatriate community has a big passion for rugby," Dallaglio said.
"The Emirati fascination in rugby is growing and this is an opportunity to bring those communities together and put on a great show.
"We are looking to generate interest in this fixture amongst the Emiratis through visits to schools and local communities.
"We are looking to promote the 15-man game of rugby in an area that has, historically, been more involved in the Sevens game."
The match will be played at the Emirates Palace hotel under floodlights in a specially designed stadium that will hold in the region of 5,000 spectators.
The idea first came about during a visit by Dallaglio and Wasps owner Steve Hayes last year to Masdar City, where they were getting ideas for building Wasps' new stadium.
Hayes knew that the January Cup fixture would only generate a gate of around 4,000 spectators at Wasps' ground at Adams Park, and endeavoured to bring about the first Premiership fixture to be played outside Britain.
"Wasps historically go to Poland in January for an intensive training camp," revealed Dallaglio. "Abu Dhabi is all about hosting top-class sport - they host probably the best Formula One event in the world and they host the climax of the European Tour.
"As nice as Poland is, the players are thrilled to bits that they are going to Abu Dhabi."
Wasps will spend over a week in the UAE, and are looking to cement their relationship with Dubai Wasps, the UAE conference team captained by former Wasps player Trevor Leota.
"I know Trevor Leota really well," said Hayes. "He and his club asked my permission to use our Wasps brand and we are looking at how to have a link up with them, similar to Harlequins' arrangement with Abu Dhabi Harlequins. This match will provide us with the perfect opportunity to sit down with the club and talk it through."
Both teams will be without their England and Wales internationals thanks to the start of the Six Nations on February 4, and Harlequins will also be without wing Ugo Monye as well as their captain Chris Robshaw, both of whom feature in the England Saxons squad.
It raises the possibility of an encounter lacking any real star dust, but that is not how Hayes sees it for the fans who will turn up on the day.
"These two teams are only going to come to town once a year, so I'm absolutely sure that we will sell out the five thousand or so seats that are being provided," said Hayes.
"Our view is that it doesn't make any difference that our England players will not be there. If it was an exhibition game, and we put out a reserve side, there would be no point, but this is different. This is a competitive fixture, and a Cup match.
"The pitch at the Emirates Palace is absolutely first class. The hotel is one of the stakeholders that has put money into the deal, and it really is an outstanding hotel - it's the one hotel in the world that gets me fit because I love walking around it.
We could have gone to Al Jazira stadium, but this match is not about packing in the numbers. We want this to be a nice, tight game where there is a fantastic experience for all."