Jebel Ali Dragons and Bahrain show signs of things to come

Matt Jones 14/01/2017
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Either side would have been worthy of victory at The Sevens last night in a free-flowing battle that swayed back and forth.

As it was, the 13-man visitors survived the late dismissal of their captain Adam Wallace to cling onto the narrowest of victories, 22-19, one which moves them above Dragons and into third place in the West Asia Premiership.

For impressive home fly-half Dan Bell, defeat was all the more excruciating as it came against his former team.

“It’s my old team and I’ve got a few mates there, so it’s even worse to lose, it’s a little harder to take,” he said.

“It was a good game but it’s not nice when you put all that effort in and come so close. The most frustrating thing was that it was so close and we played really well.

“There’s lots of positives we can take from today. We lost by three, we could easily have won by three. I think if either side had won there wouldn’t have been many complaints.”

Former team-mate Wallace, who otherwise had an outstanding game in the centre for Bahrain, was thankful his late shoulder tackle on flying UAE full-back Imad Reyal had no lasting consequence.

“I did think a little bit that I might have cost the team victory,” he said.

“I have faith in our pattern and structure though and we knew what we had to do to close it out, and we held on.”

Bahrain had blitzed Dragons 51-10 in the reverse fixture on the opening day of the season. No-one was expecting the same performance and it was the hosts who opened the scoring after 15 minutes in fine style.

Tenacious flanker Matt Henry did superbly to steal ball in midfield to set the platform. From there former Scotland 7s scrum-half Ross Samson jinked his way through the Bahrain defence, committed the last defender and sent Reyal strolling over.

It proved to be the game’s benchmark.

After the excellent Luke Radley reduced the arrears with a penalty, the visitors took the lead through Wallace’s try.

After fielding a clearance kick, winger Deina Morete launched a counter-attack, taking the ball from Wallace who continued his run and was on hand to take a return pass, and he had enough strength hold off a tackler to get to the line for a superb score. Radley brilliantly converted from the touchline.

Another fine counter saw Henry Paul’s side retake the lead minutes after the restart, Bell made the yards and offloaded to Sammy Ewing who streaked in, Bell’s excellent conversion making it 12-10 to the hosts.

The lead lasted just a few minutes though, Radley and Wallace again instrumental as Lewis Chance crossed the whitewash.

Powerful Dragons prop Dan Minks barged over in the 55th minute to give the game its fourth lead change as Paul’s men led 19-15.

Just as it looked like they might hold out, however, Dragons were cruelly slain. Their defence held out initially but an overlap eventually saw Arron Dalgarno burrow over with four minutes remaining.

Radley again knocked over a brilliant conversion to give Bahrain a three-point lead and there was plenty of time for more drama.

Wallace saw red while replacement Joel Lewis was also sin-binned. Dragons inched closer and closer into Bahrain territory but Louie Tonkin’s men defended for their lives, leaving their coach mightily relieved.

“I’m absolutely delighted with the win. We got let off the hook at the end. I thought they were going to steal it,” he said.

“If I didn’t have a bald head already, I’d have one now. The boys defended for their lives the last five minutes. It could have gone either way. I’m very happy with the boys’ character.”

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Quins remain unbeaten with win over Hurricanes

Matt Jones 14/01/2017
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Mike McFarlane’s men came up against a much-improved Dubai Hurricanes at Zayed Sports City, who promoted Mike Wernham from forwards coach to head coach during the Christmas break.

Despite remaining unbeaten as the West Asia Premiership resumed, Quins have certainly been tested this season. They were 15-0 down to Bahrain in the last game before Christmas before coming back to sneak a 17-15 victory.

They also edged Dragons 31-30 in November and were held 23-23 at home by Doha at the end of October.

McFarlane was pleased with maintaining the momentum, even if his players were left disappointed.

“The boys are frustrated but came across a strong Canes team,” said McFarlane.

“I think we lacked a bit of composure at times and have some areas to work on but we got the win which keeps us unbeaten this season and also preserves our home record.

“The boys are disappointed but only because they set themselves such high standards. I think Canes will really trouble teams in the remaining fixtures and I wish Mike all the best.”

Wernham said his side put in a performance worthy of the Canes jersey.

“Following the result and performance from Doha we were looking for a response from the squad,” he said.

“Before the match I don’t think anyone would have given us a chance against this strong Quins squad which are thoroughly deserving of being top of the league.

“I think we gave a much better account of what Hurricanes are all about. We’re leaving thinking we could have definitely won. We put up a few fights and are leaving with a losing bonus point.

“I’m delighted to see us moving on from the Doha game. We’ve got a lot more work to do and what we’re looking at now is the next level from every player, to be competing in every minute and every second of every game.

“What we’ve got ahead of us is a big task and we want to be bullish and for every player to have a different mindset. It won’t come overnight but we have a lot of talent, great attitudes and the squad continue to improve. We’re never pleased to lose but we’re taking steps forward.”

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INTERVIEW: Ben Ryan considering his next step

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Fijian chief: Ben Ryan celebrates winning the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

Ben Ryan likes to pack a lot into his days. The Englishman burns bright with progressive ideas and enthusiasm, eagerly searching fresh experiences wherever they might take him. This pursuit of a life less ordinary gained global prominence this summer when a three-year odyssey as Fiji coach ended with Olympic gold in the inaugural rugby sevens. Since tasting such glory, Ryan’s interests have become ever broader.

As a temporary citizen of New York, he became a mentor to high-ranking businessmen and inspiration to Knicks basketball superstars such as Carmelo Anthony. You can even add work with a footwear company to the growing list.

Narrowing the Cambridge Blue down to one topic is hard enough during an interview, let alone in his professional life. Ideas bounce off each other with the same frequency champion winger Josua Tuisova smashed through tackles in Rio. So can rugby contain such a fertile mind any longer?

“There is a danger of that, because of the stuff I’ve seen in America,” Ryan tells Sport360, when asked about potentially being lost to the game, during an HSBC special grassroots schools initiative session with eager Emirati schoolboys in Al Warqa.

“I also love my football and am a season-ticket holder at Brentford. All the stuff around football, I think there are huge improvements to be made in regards to culture. I think coaching is coaching. Keep it simple and make sure everybody is kind to each other but successful.

“I don’t want that to come across as ‘hippy’, but we have shown with Fiji you can do both and dominate the game you are playing. At the New York Knicks, the president is also doing their yoga classes.”

An indelible imprint has been left on both Ryan and Fiji since their adventure together received the deserved finale. A grateful nation bestowed upon their iconic coach the traditional chief’s name of Ratu Peni Raiyani Latianara, as well as three acres of paradise. This gesture means hotelier has been latched on to Ryan’s extensive list of possible occupations.

“Get yourself to Pacific Harbour, where I am a chief in Serua province,” says the voluble 45-year-old with typical enthusiasm when quizzed about the Pacific Island which he has become synonymous with. “There is a lovely spot called Uprising Beach Resort, on the Coral Coast. You can surf there, with a top-five break in the world at Cloudbreak. It is only an hour-and-a-half’s drive from the airport. Our place will be on Airbnb when we actually build the resort.”

In a sport populated by gruff men like Michael Cheika and Sir Gordon Tietjens, Ryan cannot help but stand out. As a stranger to stasis, time was called on a successful six-year spell with England in 2013 after a fear of becoming jaded. This gregarious nature and appreciation of innovation made him a perfect fit for the free-flowing Fijians.

It has further made the last few months appear as gloriously random as a Jackson Pollack painting. A definitive answer about his future plans in the sport is sought out in every interview. But the idea of jumping straight into a plum 15-a-side post does not satiate a man who admitted after the bruising 43-7 defeat of his native Great Britain in the Games decider that he had fielded more than 20 job offers.

He says: “There are things I was forced to re-learn, as I think I had got a bit disenfranchised by everything in England. Too many people, too many layers, not enough kindness. These are things I will never let go of now and will be fundamentally part of anything I do going forward. I have taken a breath in the short term.

“I knew I was going to be working in partnership with HSBC doing a few things, I’ve had some consultancy work in the United States with professional teams in different sports. I’ve done some mentoring of some CEOs in the corporate world and working in R&D in a footwear company. There are a whole heap of things. I said I wouldn’t go full time until next year, and that is the earliest.

“Whether that is sevens or 15s, it is really down to what excites you. For me, it is never about the money. It is about the challenge and Fiji is a tough one to topple. Maybe an under-performing Premiership team or a team in Super Rugby who aren’t hitting the highlights. It could even be back to the sevens because of the appeal of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”

Freedom has ensured the four-time Dubai Rugby Sevens winner will only be present at this weekend’s gala event as an ambassador for the HSBC World Series. Even though he will not be able to compete, it does not take away from Ryan’s excitement.

He says: “I have had a lot of success here, winning the title four times. When the dusk comes down on the Saturday nights, it is such a noisy cauldron in Dubai. It is a fast pitch. The crowd are very knowledgeable and receptive about rugby. Many memories here and a lot of friends here in the UAE.”

For someone who plainly does not dwell on the past, Ryan’s spell with Fiji still resonates. A special bond was forged, which began with going voluntarily unpaid for the first four months of his contract after financial problems within the Union. Alongside the likes of captain Osea Kolinisau and the rampaging Jasa Veremalua, successive Sevens Series were then lifted prior to the iconic triumph in Brazil.

“The obvious one was after the gold medal game, just embracing each of the players and telling them they are Olympic champions,” says Ryan, when asked to pin down his favourite memory of this enlivening period. “That was just brilliant.

“I had my best memories on the training field with Fiji, laughing and joking. So much so that you are in stitches. That’s camaraderie. I wake up in the morning and have half a dozen messages on Facebook Messenger from the boys. They are like little brothers to me.”

The world is waiting to see what comes next for Fiji, post-Ryan. An answer won’t come in Dubai, with permanent replacement Gareth Baber set to assume control prior to January’s third round in Wellington, New Zealand. Whatever follows, the Welshman has the unequivocal backing of his celebrated predecessor.

“Gareth is a good guy,” Ryan says. “He has my absolute support. It is a tough gig, but as he has said himself, he wants this challenge. We all want to see Fiji continue at the top table. I wish him all the very best and I will always be a phone call away.”

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