UAE’s winning mix draws first blood on Asian Rugby debut
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Julie Smith's blonde hair streamed as the 33-year-old captain of the UAE women's rugby team sprinted, ball in hand. She dived to the ground with the ball to score a try for UAE, and her teammates set upon her in a celebratory pile-up after the final whistle. The women's team from the oil-rich nation in its very first appearance at the Asian Women's Rugby 7s Championship won the Shield division beating South Korea 24-0.
The UAE team has no indigenous player, and instead is made up of expatriates from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Cameroon, Belgium, USA, UK and Peru.
Smith who holds a Peruvian and an American passport and teaches at an American school in Dubai said the team had hardly had any practice before the tournament. "All our players have been working in the UAE for the past five years. We play rugby on weekends. It was only last year we founded a rugby association and now we are here," she said.
Coach Tom Hatfield played semi-professional rugby in England, then worked as a chef in Australia before taking the reins of the UAE women's squad. He said the team put up a good show in their first tournament. "The first two matches were quite bad. We lost all our games but there were some encouraging bits in all those losses. But we bounced back. We played swift and tactically sound rugby," said the coach.
The team is a mix of members from different walks of life. Hollie Murphy, 25, and Aideen Putler, 30, are both teachers originally from Ireland. Elke Vinck, 35, a mother of five owns a company that makes clothes for babies and moved to the UAE from Belgium nine years ago. Natasha Robinson, 22, one of the youngest in the team is a dolphin trainer in Dubai and Stephanie Liwo, 19, the baby of the team is a student in Sharjah and is of Cameroonian descent.