Going the distance is a common phrase associated with sport, but there can’t be many amateur players who have gone to lengths Craig Nutt has.
The Abu Dhabi Saracens prop, like many expatriates, arrived in the UAE in September 2014 embarking on an exciting new life abroad.
The electrician had sparked up a new relationship with Sarries, but didn’t want to sever ties with his old club Bargoed, located in the south
Wales valleys, who were pushing for promotion to Welsh rugby’s top flight Principality Premiership the season that he left.
So, being a man of his word and not wanting to leave his boyhood club high and dry, Nutt spent the 2014/15 season flying back and forth between the UAE and UK every weekend to fulfill his contract.
The result was the 32-year- old playing a total of 30 matches during the campaign – 14 games back home and 16 in the Emirates.
Nutt himself estimates he completed the mammoth effort at a total cost of £2,000 (Dh9,159) personally, while Bargoed would have spent perhaps double that helping to bring one of their most important players home for the weekend.
In fact Nutt would be out of the UAE for less than 48 hours on each of those 14 weekends. He would often play for Sarries in the UAE Premiership or Gulf Top Six at 19:00 on a Friday before heading straight to airport, landing in London at 07:00 the next morning.
Kick-off with Bargoed was at 14:00 on Saturdays, but Nutt would usually be back in the Big Smoke to catch a 22:00 return flight to the UAE capital that would land at around 06:45 on Sunday morning, which would give the rugby nut just enough time to get to the office for 08:00.
There are just over 3,500 miles separating Abu Dhabi and Bargoed, 18 miles from the Welsh capital, Cardiff. So each week, Nutt would fly 7,000 miles – a grand total of 98,000 air miles for the season.
“It was all a bit surreal, it was all a blur,” admits Nutt, who took up a position as a service manager with Tyco Gas & Flame Detection in September 2014.
“Playing two games in two countries, 3,000 miles apart and going back to work all in a little over 24 hours. It took a lot of getting used to and was a very busy time. I took a lot of painkillers and did a lot of sleeping on the plane.
“It would have been close to £2,000 out of my own pocket I spent that season. They (Bargoed) paid for a fair bit too, more than I did. Every flight was £400-450 and then I was having to get lifts from London. If no-one could pick me up I’d rent a car. It was definitely a team effort.”
Nutt’s extreme efforts were rewarded with great success though. Sarries, only established in 2011 and living in the shadow of more illustrious Abu Dhabi rivals Harlequins, had a breakout year, beating Doha in a herculean effort to lift the West Asia Championship.
A week later Nutt was back home helping Bargoed lift the Swalec Championship and sealing promotion to the Premiership.
Glory or not, Nutt was just fulfilling what he sees as a simple promise.
“Bargoed were pushing to get into the Premiership and I’d signed a contract before I left to come here,” he said.
“I left them high and dry a little bit so I said I would help them out as much as I could and come back when I could. It worked out that I played 14 games in Wales as well as a full season out here.
“I’d play here on a Friday, head straight to the airport, land in London, drive to Wales, play, drive back to London and be on a plane and land here Sunday morning and go back to work.
“Sometimes I managed to book the Sunday off so I could stay after the game and spend time with the guys but most of the time I’d come straight back, land here Sunday in time for work.
“It was exciting to come out here but I was really committed to my club back home too and they’ve been really good to me over the years. The chairman is one of my best mates and I couldn’t let them down. So when I could go back and play I did.
“It was a hard slog, especially as we did so well here too. With the fact we played Premiership and getting to the Top 6 final too it was a lot of effort, but it was fantastic.
“We won the West Asia title one weekend then the following weekend I’d flown home and won the league with Bargoed too. I was really fortunate.”
Nutt even flew back for several games last season, but whenever he’s now back home, he’s happy to do his bit for the club from the stands.
He paid special tribute to his very understanding wife Megan, a teacher, who allowed him to be gone so many weekends, as well as Sarries physio Tim Fletcher, of BounceBack Physiotherapy, who worked his own miracle keeping Nutt on the field for the entire season.
It was a night of surprise in the West Asia Premiership as Abu Dhabi Harlequins suffered their first defeat of the season in Doha, while city
rivals Saracens picked up their first win in nearly four months to move off the foot of the table.
Mike McFarlane’s Quins were unbeaten in nine games heading to the Fortress, but Doha are in sublime form of late and Alex Natera’s side
pulled off a spectacular 29-16 win to move to within three points of the Zayed Sports City side.
A bonus point win for Doha saw Iliesa Rakabu, Isirelli Buimaiwai, Jope Tikomailepanoni and Pita Tuilagi cross for tries, while Brook
Tremayne converted three tries and added a penalty.
Despite the win, Natera still feels his side have a lot to work on if they are to topple Quins if the two sides meet again in the playoffs.
“We’re happy but not totally delighted,” said Natera.
“They played into our hands to be fair. Our defence was what we wanted, our kicking game and our set-piece is what enabled us to control
the game, and they never took the lead
“But, we got a lot to work on. As I say they played in to our hands a bit. They won't do that in the playoffs.”
Back in Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, Winston Cowie’s Sarries were celebrating just a second win in 10 games, coming from behind to secure a
38-33 win against Dubai Hurricanes with a last-minute try.
The bonus point win was secured thanks to a Rickus Swart hat-trick and tries for player-coach Cowie and Garth Van Niekirk, with the hosts
coming from 16 points adrift in the final 15 minutes at Al Ghazal against the 13-man visitors, who replied through their own hat-trick man,
Mike Jasko, with Darryl Johnson also touching down.
“We finally escaped and it was good to be on the right end of one of the close ones,” said Cowie.
“We came from 16 points down with 15 minutes to go to win it off the scrum in the last play of the game. I’m so pleased for the guys after
such a big effort this season but limited results.
“The guys really showed their character today and grafted when all seemed lost.”
The two teams came into the game separated by four points in the race for the final West Asia Premiership play-off spot, but the bonus point victory for Dragons lifted Henry Paul’s side a point above of Exiles, who now only have one game remaining this season.
Crucially, Dragons still have three, so victory puts them on the cusp of the post-season and reigning West Asia and UAE champions Exiles on the brink of disaster.
After two narrow defeats, Dragons winger Emerson Bessell was left “ecstatic” by this crucial triumph.
“Exiles are old rivals so we’re happy to come off with a win after a hard-fought game,” he said.
“It hasn’t quite come off the last few weeks and we don’t think we got we deserved in recent weeks, but today it just clicked.”
Deflated Exiles scrum-half Ed Armitage was at a loss to explain the reason for such contrasting halves from his side.
“It was 8-5 at half time and we said if we could keep the ball and increase the pressure we could win, but every time we took it into contact we lost it,” he said.
“They had four or five boys at the breakdown who were class at recovering the ball, Matt Henry and Ben Blamyre in particular.
“They were clamping on and we just weren’t quick enough to the ruck.”
The wind whistled around The Sevens as the action flew from end to end.
Fly-half Dan Bell opened the scoring in the 18th minute with a penalty from just inside his own half but Exiles flanker Danny Waddy continued his purple tryscoring patch with another score as the hosts went ahead.
They would have been happy with their lead heading into the interval but on the stroke of half time Dragons responded, Dan Minks powering over.
A grippingly tight encounter was surprisingly turned into a second half blowout as Exiles unexpectedly collapsed. South African hooker Gio Fourie rumbled over after good pressure and a brace for compatriot and namesake Ryno then saw Exiles buckle.
Their defending was almost non-existent as the UAE winger scored twice without so much as a hand being laid on him.
Exiles grabbed a scant consolation in the final minute when Michael Stubbs dotted down, but Gerber saw his conversion sail wide, with Exiles’ play-off hopes also drifting away.