Meet the Irish playing international rugby for the UAE

‘We can play the game we love at international level, representing our adopted nation’

The United Arab Emirates may not be best-known for rugby, but for three Irish players, it is offering the chance of a lifetime to play for a national team.

Fullback Sean Carey wasn't aware that rugby was played at all in the UAE when he competed in his first game there in 2006, representing Ireland with the under-19s team in the World Cup in Dubai.

During that short visit he was attracted to the lifestyle, and seven years later he decided to return to live there.

This week, he is one of three Irish men on the UAE national squad, competing in Division 1 of the Asian Championships in Ipoh, Malaysia.


The UAE squad is made up of 38 amateur players from around the world, coached by former Samoan rugby legend Apollo Perelini. All the players have full time jobs in the UAE, and qualify to play for the national team after three years living there, under World Rugby’s residency rules.

Rugby in the UAE is not yet a professional sport, so Carey works a day job as sports facility manager in Dubai Sports City, a “sport inspired community” which attracts teams from all over the world to train in its state of the art complex.

Joining Carey on the squad is former Malone RFC Number 8 Glenn Moore from Belfast, who works as a corporate governance manager at Dubai Parks and Resorts, and scrum-half Kris Greene from Dublin, formerly of St Mary's, who runs the Physical Training Company in Dubai.

To avoid the searing Dubai heat, the squad trains at night at the Dubai Sevens stadium or at Dubai Sports City. It is typically about 20 degrees at night during the rugby season, from September to April. Carey trains twice a week with the national squad, and twice more with his club, the aptly-named Dubai Exiles.

"Rugby in UAE has grown dramatically in the last number of years, and the West Asia Premiership is now a very competitive league with teams from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar all competing," Carey says.

"Each (club) team is made up of expats from all corners of the world which gives us a unique rugby experience, and allows us to make great friends from different nations. I played last season with Dubai Exiles, where our team was made up of players from the Six Nations countries as well as Argentina, NZ, Australia, South Africa, Fiji and Sri Lanka."

It's not the first time Carey has played rugby in another country. In 2011, he spent a year in the Midi-Pyrenes in France, playing professionally for Stade Rodez Averyon, before returning to Dublin to play with Lansdowne FC for two years, winning the All-Ireland League with the team under former Wales coach Mike Ruddock.

But as his Facebook timeline filled with photos and stories from friends working and living abroad, Carey’s feet got itchier, and in August that year he left for Dubai and hasn’t looked back since.

The UAE have lost both matches this week against Malaysia and Sri Lanka, so to stay in Division 1 and have a chance to earn promotion to the Asia Premiership next season, they will have to win against the Philippines on Saturday.

The UAE is aiming to make it so in the near future, following a similar model to Hong Kong Rugby, which has centrally contracted players.

“I can see UAE becoming a strong rugby nation,” Carey says. “It is still in development stages but has a lot of very talented young players.

“As for me and the other Irish players on the squad, we don’t see ourselves leaving the UAE any time soon. We have settled here over the last four to five years, and really enjoy the lifestyle. It’s a bonus that we can play the game we love at international level, and get to travel around Asia representing our adopted nation.”