Dubai: The UAE and Israel will take to the field on Friday in a historic rugby match as part of the visitors’ ‘Friendship Tour’ of the UAE.
The Israel team are in the UAE for training and these matches to reflect the normalisation of ties between the countries since last August.
The two sides will meet on a rugby field for the first time in history on Friday at Dubai Sports City in back-to-back seven-a-side clashed with a twist.
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The first match at 5.40pm will see the UAE take on Israel in a match consisting of four seven-minute periods. Then at 6.40pm they shake things up as two mixed teams of both Israeli and Emirati players — Israel-UAE Blue and Israel-UAE White — will lock horns over three periods.
While eyes will be on the action, two men who will be at the centre of attention are referees Jaco de Wit and Monray Gilbert.
Jaco will take charge of the first match between UAE and Israel before Monray takes up the whistle for the mixed match.
Both officials have a lot in common as both are from South Africa and are now mathematics teachers with GEMS in the UAE. Jaco, 29, teaches at The Cambridge High School, Abu Dhabi, and Monray, 28, works at Cambridge International School, Abu Dhabi. Both are experienced referees who feature in the UAE Premier League and have expressed the honour they feel to be overseeing such a historic occasion.
“It is a bit surreal,” Monray told Gulf News in an exclusive chat. “It means so much to take charge of a match that means to much to break down barriers between the countries, not only politically but socially.
“When you look back on your career, you always savour the big matches you have officiated and this will be something to remember forever.”
Jaco echoed those sentiments. “I have done a few internationals in my time but this one is a bit different and I am truly blessed to have this great honour.”
Both Monray and Jaco were full of praise for the leeway they are given by GEMS to keep up their dedication to rugby.
“I am starting my fourth year here at Cambridge,” said Jaco, “and I have always been permitted to take time off to cover matches — as long as the kids get their work done! It is not something you would get anywhere, so that is a big plus for us as we can commit to both the schooling and rugby.”
Monray added: “You have to thank the schools in terms of accommodating us. The leeway is brilliant and we love to pay it back to them.”
Jaco turned to refereeing after he had a kidney removed due to cancer as a child back in South Africa, meaning he could not follow his passion of playing rugby.
“Rugby has always been in my family and it shattered me to be unable to play,” he explained. “I tried my luck sometimes when my parents were not looking. I was at boarding school so that gave me a few opportunities. But my principal soon stepped in. He noticed how I had a feel for the game and said: ‘Here’s a whistle.’ The rest is history and I eventually made my way over to the UAE to teach and make some money. I was amazed at the rugby community over here and I got a call to get back into it and give something to the rugby society.”
It was clear to see how much he and Monray were looking forward to officiating the historic match on Friday as he said with a smile: “We will just get out there and try to enjoy it. It will be such an honour.”
Jaco and Monray could become a regular feature as UAE coach Apollo Perelini — who has been in training with his players since January — is keen to make the clash against Israel an annual competition.
The matches will be streamed live on the UAE Rugby Facebook page on Friday.