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Sharks academy to plug rugby talent drain

Natal tie-up feeds players into UAE national team from schools rugby

Gulf News

Dubai: UAE Rugby Association (UAE RA) chief executive officer Ian Bremner is confident of greater player retention following this week’s launch of the Natal Sharks Academy franchise.

This latest addition to the UAE’s expanding youth development programme will hone elite players for the UAE Under-19 national team selection, as well as giving aspiring youngsters the option of continuing their education in the emirates.

Three ten-week programmes for the Under-15 and Under-18 age-groups kicked off in Dubai, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi this week under Academy coach Steve Botha, bolstering an already well-founded club junior development scene.

It also complements existing youth development systems put in place by the UAE RA, such as the HSBC Schools player pathway programme, currently ongoing in 30 Emirati schools.

On top of that there’s a tie-up with the Vocational Education Development Centre (VDEC), which specialises in directing Emirati students toward practical career paths, where boarders have been introduced to the sport.

Success stories from both these schemes will now filter into the academy, which is accredited by the South African rugby union side.

“There’s a trend in the UAE that Under-16s return to their country of origin to complete their higher education,” said Bremner.

“It’s a temporary loss of a large investment from club and youth coaches,” he added.

“We want to create a model of sustainability and hope to retain our graduates. Our next target is to affiliate the academy with a local college or university in the UAE, where qualifications could be obtained on site.”

Botha said: “The biggest problem for UAE national team coaches is that there’s a big gap in the 18-25 age-group. Our aim is to bridge that. We want to keep players in the country for longer and equip these youngsters with the best skills to take them up to the next level.”