KABUL- War-torn Afghanistan, already impressing the cricketing world with its rapid progress in the game, will play its first rugby match abroad in Dubai this month, the local federation said Sunday.
Afghanistan will play a series of exhibition sevens matches against UAE Shaheen, a development side for the UAE national team, ahead of the Asian Five Nations on April 27, the Afghanistan Rugby Federation said.
"This tour means a lot for Afghan rugby. It's a big step for development of the game in Afghanistan, and will encourage a lot of Afghan youngsters to play rugby," said technical vice president, Abdul Khalil Bik.
The fledgling federation won affiliation from the Asian Rugby Football Union in November last year, and has so far only played matches against NATO troops in Kabul, but the game is catching on fast.
The British embassy sponsored Afghanistan's first official rugby tournament in December, with organisers hoping the game will one day be as popular as buzkashi, a kind of polo played with the carcass of a headless goat.
Cricket has already gained a strong following, with the national side earning one-day status in 2009 and appearing at the World Twenty20 the following year. They have again won a place in this year's tournament.
But enthusiasts believe Afghans, who have faced decades of conflict and hardship, are even better suited to the rough and tumble of the rugby field, which is more akin to the national sport buzkashi, without the need for horses.
"We're a rough, tough people. We're physically set for this game, which is very energetic and fast," Asad Ziar, the ARF's chief executive officer, said during the December tournament.
But with just 220 players registered with the ARF, rugby has a long way to go before it can claim to be anywhere near as popular as buzkashi, football or cricket.
NATO has some 130,000 troops helping the government of President Hamid Karzai fight a Taliban insurgency, but they are due to pull out by the end of 2014.