It was supposed to be a big day for Saudi Rugby this weekend, as they were hoping to play the UAE Shaheen in what would have been their first “International” match on home soil following the first ‘test’ against Jordan last season.
That game has sadly been delayed and the understanding is that World Rugby have been unmoved by the nature of the fixture and the development systems of the Arabic countries.
The UAE may be more affected by most, but Qatar, and Saudi Rugby all play their International teams with eligible expatriate players, while at the same time running ‘Olympic qualified’ national development teams.
In this instance, the Shaheen are not a test nation and therefore it seems will not be recognised and hence sanctioned by World Rugby.
In a way, we should not be surprised. Rugby at league and domestic level is heavily regulated and we have already seen UAE league matches forfeited with unregistered players. In this part of the world though and for any country still operating in the D1, D2 or D3 band of World Rugby development, maybe some degree of flexibility could be worked into the system.
Meanwhile Saudi Rugby has benefited in a way from the hard work the preparation for the game has generated. The squad for the game has players from Riyadh (The core of the national team is Riyadh based so they train together 2-3 times a week), Khobar, Yanbu and Jeddah but due to travel and work, they are limited to one national team training session on Thursday.
There are seven Saudi Nationals in the squad, the rest are expats eligible through the World Rugby residency rule.
More Saudi Nationals are keen to get involved, especially now that international games are being organised and there has been a lot of hard work done by people such as Faleh Al Bishi of KSA Rugby. In recent months, for example, the Riyadh club had quite a few new Saudi members join.
Saudi Rugby’s ‘local’ captain affectionately known as “Gearbox” told GRP: “It was going to be awesome game that we could play around our family and friends”, “we are trying so hard to win this game even though we couldn’t train together more than only the one time”.
The match will now be a fixture between Saudi Select and KSA Rugby, Saudi Select are competing in this season’s West Asia Conference along with Muscat, Kuwait, Doha 2s and Bahrain Select.
The ‘select’ team is for anyone who lives in Saudi and wants to play, no residency rules, so effectively friendly matches. There have been a few over the last 6 months, and they give people the opportunity to play at a good level to aid development. There has been a lot of interest, even for the cross-border games. It is a good scouting opportunity too for those eligible for the full national team.
The UAE hope to be able to get this game played at a later date and it is marked as postponed and one hopes that for “Gearbox” and his friends and all the Shaheen boys playing community rugby who hope to play Internationally for their country then this game gets played one way or another.
Thanks to Martin Green of Riyadh Rugby