Exiles players upbeat ahead of Bahrain clash

Matt Jones 25/01/2017
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A humbling 53-17 defeat was suffered on their own field against fierce rivals Abu Dhabi Harlequins last week, but the players remain upbeat ahead of a daunting trip to Bahrain Friday.

Scrum-half Ed Armitage was a rare positive for Jacques Benade’s men last week, scoring their two tries and adding two conversions for a total haul of 14 points.

And the Englishman believes in order to keep their campaign alive, Exiles need to forget their fall from grace and concentrate on one game at a time.

“We’re feeling good going into the weekend, we’ve been training well for the past three weeks with a good buzz in the camp, we just can’t seem to convert it onto the pitch,” said an upbeat Armitage.

“Obviously it’s a big challenge playing Bahrain away, it’s a cauldron of a ground and last year we couldn’t hear ourselves due to the noise of the crowd. We need to forget the league and the trophies and concentrate on the performance.”

Fly-half Durandt Gerber echoed his half-back colleague, adding: “We know it won’t be an easy path going forward but we all want to end the season well and go as far as we can.”

One of Bahrain’s three defeats this season was against Exiles at The Sevens and coach Louie Tonkin feels the loss was the only one his side deserved.

“We’re looking forward to giving a better account of ourselves this weekend and we know they’re going to be hurting after that big loss last week and will come motivated,” said the Welshman, who will welcome back influential skipper Adam Wallace, returning after a ban picked up for a red card against Jebel Ali Dragons two weeks ago.

“Exiles are a really good side. Of the three games we’ve lost, we were close with Sarries and Quins, but Exiles were the only side that have beaten us well and they deserved to win.

“But we’ve got a job to do and we’re just focused on ourselves. We still have a few players missing, particularly in the second row, but we’re really excited about hosting the champions and putting on a good performance and hopefully keeping this winning run going.”

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McFarlane not reading too much into Sarries' lowly position

Matt Jones 25/01/2017
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Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

In a mirror image of the table, capital city rivals Saracens are bottom of the pile, with just one win to their name in 2016/17.

However, that is not an accurate reflection of their campaign. Five of their defeats have come by seven points or less and they have the second-best defensive record in the league – their 129 points conceded is bettered only by Bahrain.

They nearly caused an upset against vastly improving Doha last week, beaten 17-15 at Al Ghazal in yet more heartbreaking circumstances.

Head coach Winston Cowie, however, believes that their luck will eventually change. And why not at the home of their fiercest rivals.

“We are looking forward to a cracking local derby tonight,” said Cowie.

“Our boys played very well against Doha and we will look to take that same physical mindset to Zayed Sports City. If you keep hammering away at the door, as we have been all season, we will eventually knock it down. Let’s hope it’s tonight.

“Respect to Quins – there are a lot of good guys and players there. It will be mate against mate and rest assured we will be doing our best to come out on top.”

Quins coach Mike McFarlane  and his side are on cloud nine right now, fresh from dishing out a 53-17 beating to reigning West Asia and UAE Premiership champions Dubai Exiles last week.

However, McFarlane’s players don’t have their heads in the clouds and insists they will not be taking their neighbours lightly.

“It promises to be a lively affair as always as it’s a local derby,” said the Englishman.

“Their league position doesn’t really reflect how they’ve been playing. I think they’ve lost (a lot of) games by less than seven points, as well as picking up bonus points. They have a strong pack with a much improved backline and offer threats from all over the pitch.

“However our boys are flying at the moment. The pack has really clicked and their work rate is phenomenal. The backs have been potent and clinical so they are looking forward to putting the different strategies we have worked on this week into the game.”

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All Blacks legend joins fellow hero Zinzan Brooke in Abu Dhabi

Matt Jones 24/01/2017
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Brooke, one of the trailblazers for ball-playing forwards, was back for a second year to help ME Touch promote the sport, while founder John Larkins was able to call upon the help of fellow All Black icon Cullen this time around.

Both spent the four days of the championship lending their expertise to rugby-mad youngsters in the capital, while also competing in the tournament’s pro-am alongside England’s Danny Willett and South Africa’s Branden Grace.

Cullen is New Zealand’s second top try-scorer of all time with 46, three behind Doug Howlett, but was brought up, near Wellington, on touch.

And he sang the praises of the sport and backed the work Larkins is doing promoting it in the Emirates and beyond.

“Growing up in Paekakariki I played touch from a young age,” said the 40-year-old who shone bright but briefly in 58 Tests for the All blacks from 1996-2002 before finishing his career with Munster in Ireland.

“All the locals played whatever age we were, from me aged 10 to older boys. We’d meet up on a Monday night and have a massive game of touch.

“For kids, it’s great. You don’t need to worry about contact or getting hurt. It’s great for your skills, vision, there’s everything you need for rugby apart from contact, which is what a lot of kids shy away from. The more they play it the better they’re going to be.”

Larkins, a fellow Wellington native, said Cullen was all too happy to help out this year.

“I’m working with the Abu Dhabi Sports Council to set up ambassadorial schemes like the one HSBC has,” said Larkins.

“We’re looking to get guys over here and they asked me about inviting guys who I know with touch rugby background and Culley came to mind. He was free, I told him about the UAE Touch background and he jumped at it.

“We’re both from near Auckland and he’s got a background in sevens too. Essentially it’s not a big difference between union, touch and sevens, and all three games have skills at their core.

“You still have to convince some clubs and schools here about the benefits of touch, but it’s a great introduction for full contact rugby, but it’s also a great sport in itself.”

Larkins says touch’s development from its difficult early days in the UAE and Gulf region has made huge progress, so much so that in the last year around 7,000 in Dubai played the sport.

He’s hoping Cullen will be back later in the year to promote the sport and ME Touch further, while he was able to combine his clinics at the golf with a new grassroots golf initiative that the Abu Dhabi Sports Council are also trying to get off the ground, Future Falcons.

“It’s about a crossover and helping kids get out and active, whatever the sport is that they play,” said Larkins.

“All sport is good sport, the whole idea is to get them out doing something whatever it is.

“If they want to go back to football or cricket, that’s fine, just as long as they’re out and being active. The key is giving them an opportunity at grassroots level that’s not cost prohibitive.”

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