RAK’S WAN­DER­ING RUGBY PLAY­ERS PLANT FLAG IN THEIR NEW HOME AT GOLF RANGE

▶ The sports club, who have been look­ing for a per­ma­nent base for years, fi­nally have one at Al Hamra Golf Club

The National - News - - NEWS EMIRATES - ANNA ZACHARIAS

It has taken a few decades but RAK Rugby has a place to call home at last and – in true Ras Al Khaimah style – it is a bit un­usual.

RAK Rugby se­cured a per­ma­nent home at the Al Hamra Golf Club, where its play­ers will have the run of two in­ter­na­tional-size pitches and a sta­teof-the-art club­house. By day, the field dou­bles as a driv­ing range.

As evening falls, golfers hit balls out on to the rugby field as the rugby play­ers warm up. Be­fore long, the golf balls that dot the pitch are cleared and the rugby team takes over.

The men’s team played their first home match on Oc­to­ber 18, de­feat­ing Dubai Sharks 56-5 be­fore crowds of RAK res­i­dents cheer­ing them on from the banks be­side the pitch. By the end of the match, sev­eral spec­ta­tors had de­cided to join the club.

It was a mile­stone in RAK sport­ing his­tory. Rugby has been played in the emi­rate since 1969 and its cur­rent team was es­tab­lished in 1981 as the RAK Goats.

The team proved to be as feisty as their orig­i­nal name­sake, achiev­ing var­ied suc­cess over nearly four decades with­out ever hav­ing a per­ma­nent base.

But suc­cess on the pitch, en­dorse­ment by the RAK royal fam­ily and cor­po­rate spon­sor­ships even­tu­ally led to a per­ma­nent home for the side at the five-star golf club.

“Call it fate, call it what­ever you want, but there’s been a lot of hard work put in by a lot of peo­ple over a long pe­riod of time,” said Ryan Reaney, the chair­man of RAK Rugby. “We’re just lucky to be here in mo­ment to see it fin­ished.”

The team pre­vi­ously trained at Tower Links Golf Club in RAK city cen­tre. Be­fore that, they played on a sand pitch at Bin Ma­jid Beach Re­sort.

As Ras Al Khaimah’s pop­u­la­tion shifted south to new developmen­ts out­side the old city, the 30-minute com­mute into town be­gan to af­fect at­ten­dance, which has dou­bled since a re­lo­ca­tion to RAK’s more pop­u­lated Al Hamra area.

The new fields of­fer tech­ni­cal ad­van­tages too, hav­ing goal­posts for kick­ing prac­tice.

Home games were pre­vi­ously played in the neigh­bour­ing emi­rate at the Shar­jah Wan­der­ers club, a 50-minute ride away in a mini bus. Some­times the team played in Dubai.

RAK Rugby looks for­ward to host­ing its first home tour­na­ment on Jan­uary 31, when 12 women’s teams will com­pete.

As the men warmed up on Wed­nes­day night, the RAK Rugby women held a video anal­y­sis ses­sion in Al Hamra Golf Club’s mem­ber’s room.

“For the past three sea­sons we’ve been go­ing to every­one else’s tour­na­ments and we’ve had to host our tour­na­ment at the Shar­jah Wan­der­ers,” said Kylie Ma­sur, the Cana­dian cap­tain of the women’s team.

“To be able to have our own place, show them what RAK’s about and have the home field ad­van­tage for us, is go­ing to be mas­sive.”

The rugby club will share the fields with RAK’s Gaelic foot­ball side, the RAK Ropairi. The new club­house will have the colours and logos of both teams painted on its walls later this week.

“I’m from North­ern Ire­land and, back home, there’s a lot that di­vides peo­ple,” Mr Reaney said.

“I would chal­lenge you to find any­where in Ire­land where a rugby club and a Gaelic side were so col­lab­o­ra­tive. That’s what rugby and that’s what sport is about. It brings peo­ple to­gether.”

The club’s mem­bers can now de­vote their en­ergy to de­vel­op­ing a ju­nior team and com­mu­nity outreach projects, in­clud­ing work at schools and beach clean-ups in the sea­son ahead.

The new de­vel­op­ment takes rugby back to the com­mu­nity, Mr Reaney said.

“Peo­ple come from their home coun­tries; they ar­rive and they’re not sure where they’re go­ing. They end up get­ting a stu­dio or a one-bed­room apart­ment in a place they don’t know any­one and it can be very lonely, ex­pat life. Our goal is to act as fam­ily.

“Our motto is ‘one club, one team’, be­cause that’s what we are. We are here to sup­port each other, and that doesn’t just mean on the field – it means off the field as well.”

The club can now de­vote en­ergy to de­vel­op­ing a ju­nior team and com­mu­nity outreach projects

RAK Rugby’s men’s side played their first game at their new pitch at Al Hamra Golf Club, top, against Dubai Sharks. Above, of­fi­cials cut the rib­bon at the open­ing cer­e­mony

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