New Zealand Rugby takes Small Blacks brand global with Abu Dhabi partnership

New Zealand Rugby’s (NZR) Small Blacks brand is going global with the Abu Dhabi Cricket & Sports Hub becoming the historic first international home of the famed junior coaching resource.

Small Blacks Abu Dhabi will launch this month marking the first time NZR’s only officially licensed grassroots development programme has operated outside of New Zealand.

NZR Commercial CEO Richard Thomas said:

“This is an exciting partnership for New Zealand Rugby to broaden the reach of the Small Blacks brand and create new relationships for our development programmes. We have been impressed by the care and passion Abu Dhabi Cricket & Sports Hub has shown for growing rugby in the UAE and we believe Small Blacks can help grow the game in emerging markets and foster some lasting relationships.”

NZR General Manager Community Rugby Steve Lancaster said:

“The Small Blacks brand has been developed over more than 20 years with thousands of Kiwi kids and coaches having fun participating in rugby and developing their skills, including numerous All Blacks and Black Ferns. When we were presented with the opportunity to share the Small Blacks experience with young boys and girls in the United Arab Emirates, we couldn’t have been happier to collaborate with them. We can't wait to get started.”

It is not the first partnership between NZR and the Abu Dhabi Cricket & Sports Hub, with the Black Ferns and All Blacks sevens teams using the Hub’s training facilities in the lead-up to major international competitions since 2017. During that time New Zealand players and coaches have conducted community coaching sessions with players from all over the United Arab Emirates.

Abu Dhabi Cricket & Sports Hub CEO Matt Boucher said: 

"We couldn’t be prouder that New Zealand Rugby has entrusted us with the Small Blacks’ first international out-post and look forward to building on our existing relationship to establish a longer-term partnership between us. 

"At Abu Dhabi Cricket & Sports Hub we look to partner Abu Dhabi Sports Council and the world’s premium rights holders to host international sport in the UAE capital, while providing a world-class community-focused facility for a growing customer base of 760,000 annually who play the 35 sports that we offer. 

"The All Blacks are the standard bearers for international rugby and one of the most recognisable brands in world sport. We share their inherent values of integrity, teamwork, and community enhancement. This historic partnership demonstrates the hub’s deep commitment to providing exceptional sporting opportunities to our community and to ensuring Abu Dhabi’s name resonates with the world’s greatest sporting brands and aspiring talent.”

Through the Small Blacks, NZR has carefully curated a participation-based community programme, with an overarching philosophy that the game must be safe and enjoyable for all participants.

Small Blacks Abu Dhabi will use this blueprint to engage and educate children across the region which will allow young players the opportunity to develop a wide range of skills as they progress through the age groups, with skill development and stringent safety measures a major focus for the coaches.

The programme will launch on 29 August with a total of 245 boys and girls already enrolled and will be guided by 12 World Rugby qualified coaches led by New Zealand-born Head of Rugby Aaron Persico, who represented Italy 56 times and played at the 2003 Rugby World Cup.

Children between 3 to 16 years will be able to become Small Blacks Abu Dhabi members, with no previous rugby experience needed to enroll in any age group. The programme will provide sessions for both girls and boys.

The club will participate in regional tournaments and UAERF rugby fixtures across the year and host additional indoor and outdoor specialized skills camps.