Dubai: When England and France clash for a place in the semi-finals of the 2011 Rugby World Cup this weekend, in a fixture which epitomises one of international rugby's biggest rivalries, one local team who won't be missing that match for the world are the Dubai Frogs.
You get a fair idea why that is the case when you go back to the reason behind the rise of the Frogs 11 years ago according to the club's general secretary Armel van Erck.
"It was a bunch of French guys who decided that they were fed up of playing with English people. So they decided to found the Frogs to fight against the English people," said van Erck with a cheeky grin.
Largely a team of rugby loving French expatriates, the Frogs are ever willing to embrace other nationalities, especially Continental Europeans like van Erck who is originally Belgian. But that's not to say they take their sporting dislike for the English too far. Tom McNulty has managed to survive two full seasons with the Frogs and said he had enjoyed every bit of it. "I like the style of rugby that they play and they're very good after the game socially," said the centre. "We always have a good time and I enjoy playing for the Frogs. All the training sessions are done in English so it's quite accessible to other people who come. It just so happens that at the moment I'm the only one."
Being the only Englishman, do his French teammates especially target him when it comes to rehearsing tackles? "I'm sure they do, but who wouldn't?" McNulty quipped.
However, scrum-half Louis Jourde said a special harmony existed within the cosmopolitan Frogs dressing room. "Legend says that the French and English don't get along that well, but as you can see, everyone is welcome," said the 28-year-old who swapped his native Paris for Dubai five years ago.
With the club still looking for their first points of the new season, McNulty and Jourde will have to put the Frogs' interests first when they take on newcomers Abu Dhabi Saracens on Friday before turning their attention to the big World Cup quarter-final clash in Eden Park on Saturday.
Van Erck has confirmed that the club have organised a live screening of the game coupled with lunch for all its members at the Radisson Royal. With Martin Johnson's England side looking the favourites to progress, McNulty said he would definitely be attending. "I think I will because England are going to win. I'm pretty sure of that you know," he said.
Jourde said he would be watching the game with friends in France where he has a 24 hour stopover enroute to a business meeting in West Africa. "Unfortunately, I won't be there, but in any case I think it's going to be an interesting game and I'm sure the French are going to win," he said, adding: "I'm sure I will be celebrating and I will give Tom a call and tell him he was wrong, he lied to a journalist."
Predictions for England v France (saturday, 11.30am UAE time)
McNulty: England to win 21-12
Jourde: France to win 22-12