Abu Dhabi: Managing a whopping 235 teams of youngsters does make it a big deal. At the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Harlequins Junior Rugby Festival, budding rugby players from across the globe converged at the Zayed Sports City for the two-day event last week.
But the festival tournament director Derren Sanders is unfazed saying “more the merrier. This has grown into one of the biggest tournaments in the world. We have 235 teams from all over the Middle East and other countries. For the first time we have a team from Sri Lanka and seven teams from the UK. We are pleased with the way it’s growing,
“It creates a festival atmosphere and many countries don’t get to play competitive rugby often so this is a great opportunity for them,” Sanders added.
The festival is the first event of the 2013-14 HSBC Youth Rugby Series, that has seen him go from strength to strength in recent years as this year saw many records tumble with more Emirati and international teams entering the fray. Three all-Emirati teams were part of the festival including Al Ain Amblers and Al Ain Wolves. HSBC has encouraging growth of rugby among Emiratis through its partnership with the UAE Rugby Federation’s Player Pathway Programme. “When we began it was just four or five teams. We have come a long way since then.
“It teaches kids a lot of things including respect, discipline and teamwork. This helps them improve their game and to adopt them in their personal life.
“And since the focus is mainly on grassroots rugby it helps them develop their skills,” he added.
Sandres said he would be happy to accommodate more teams in the future. “We will have to find new venues if the size grows, but if they are enthusiastic, we will find a way to accommodate them.”
HSBC Rugby Ambassador and former World Cup winner, Will Greenwood was present during the festival. “I’ve been hugely impressed with the energy and commitment shown by everyone involved with the game here, from kids to parents, coaches to officials and the sponsors supporting grassroots development. It’s amazing to see how rugby is flourishing in the region with more Emirati youngsters taking up the game.”
Rocco De Bruyn, Youth Manager at Al Ain Amblers said: “It’s a huge opportunity for youngsters. Our boys were so excited to be part of this and it was a very special one for them. They get motivated when they are part of such festival where you have so many teams from all over the world.”