Doha could return to Gulf rugby in 2017/18 but UAE clubs are divided on possibility

Matt Jones 21:04 14/07/2017
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Doha in action against Jebel Ali Dragons last season

The possibility of Doha being allowed to compete in the West Asia Premiership next season has been met with mixed reactions among the UAE rugby community.

A number of Gulf countries, including the UAE, severed ties with Qatar last month. And Doha were subsequently a notable omission from the new 2017/18 fixtures calendar which was released by the UAE Rugby Federation on July 1.

The newly-formed Dubai Eagles have been granted entry to both the cross-border West Asia competition as well as the UAE Premiership – the premier club rugby competitions in the Gulf and Emirates respectively – next season in place of Doha.

But it has now emerged that rugby authorities in the Middle East are considering arranging matches involving Alex Natera’s side on neutral territory in Muscat, as they attempt to manage the fallout of the Qatar boycott.

Doha’s existence next season would undoubtedly maintain an edge to matches as well as add to the standard of play – Natera’s men finished runners-up to Abu Dhabi Harlequins in 2016/17 – while two extra games for teams would surely be of great benefit to Apollo Perelini’s UAE for next year’s Asia Rugby Championship campaign.

Yet the cost of travelling to Doha, at a time when many UAE clubs are struggling with finances, is a concern, while some clubs feel it would extend an already swollen fixture list.

“I am 100 per cent behind it,” said Dubai Exiles chairman Mike Wolff.

“It is absolutely beneficial to have them in it although any match in Muscat would have to be a double header, for example, worth double points. We can’t afford to travel twice to Muscat and once to Bahrain unless of course the UAE RF and Asia Rugby do the right thing and assist with costs.”

Quins chairman Andy Cole cautiously welcomed the possibility, while also listing benefits for Doha not being allowed to compete.

“It would be beneficial in that they are a strong team, but cost prohibitive for most clubs,” said Cole.

“It would be a shame (for them not to feature) as they were the closest team in overall performance last season and we know they are recruiting for next season.

“However, we also know they have semi-pro players who are paid so it may make things more of a level playing field for the other teams if they cannot compete.

“This is obviously something the clubs have no say in and we will of course await and respect the decision of the UAE RF and Asia Rugby.”

Dubai Hurricanes counterpart Simon Lewis is also skeptical of the recent development, fearing a congested fixture list.

“Should not the question be on the benefits of the UAE RF decision to allow the Eagles into the Premiership, given it was made on the basis of Doha not participating?

“The season is already having challenges with its schedule running into mid-April when it’s too hot play – that’s without Doha rejoining.”

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