Doha coach Alex Natera is using the pain of the club’s past to fire his players up for the end of the season, in which they will be targeting West Asia Cup glory.
A revelation at the end of February revealed that this season’s West Asia Premiership was being run on a league and not a play-off format – something clubs were infuriated about but had actually known about since the summer when Asia Rugby sent each club a copy of the rules and regulations.
It means Abu Dhabi Harlequins are WAP champions, but Natera backed the belief voiced by most other clubs that the play-offs, which will be used to crown the Cup winners, are what will determine the true champions.
“The season has become a massive anti-climax, but the play-off winner is the main one,” said Natera.
“As far as we are concerned on the evening of March 31 the champion side will be announced. Some of the lads were deflated a bit but I just got them to cast their minds back a few years ago where they won the league (Gulf Top 6) and then lost the final (to Abu Dhabi Saracens).”
Doha were scheduled to welcome Dubai Hurricanes this weekend, but tomorrow (Friday’s) game has been forfeited by Canes, who are struggling for numbers.
And it is another issue which has left Natera and his side upset.
“I am very disappointed that Hurricanes have forfeited due to player availability,” added Natera, who suggests Canes should be fined.
“It kills our run in to the semi-finals. We will not have played a game in four weeks by the time we face Bahrain. I’m really disappointed that this can happen in the West Asia Premiership.
“Other unions would administer relegations or significant fines for this. It has massive ramifications on our prep for rugby but also on our bar takings and club finances.
“Missing the finances that come from a home game v Al Ain and now Canes is not great for a club that has to fly nearly every second weekend.
“Almost every away game this year I have had to field second team players and go short on the bench because of player availability, visa restriction etc. I’ve even brought in retired players and ex-club players living in the UAE.
“If canes had 12 players unavailable then those spots should have been filled with second team players – simple. then just live with the result and get on with it.
“If this league is to be taken seriously on the world stage this sort of thing should not happen lightly. Teams that can’t or won’t fulfil their fixtures should play in other competitions where the consequences are not so great for the team that is let down.
“Just to make matters worse both Bahrain and us have finished in the top four, and we have fulfilled all our fixtures, yet the losing team in the semi-final next week has to play off for relegation out of the West Asia Premiership. Perhaps the league should reconsider this based on this forfeit.”
Canes head coach Mike Wernham, however, said the request to cancel the fixture was made with the UAE Rugby Federation in good time due to several player injuries and others attending a wedding.
“We forfeited the game. We put the call in two weeks ago. I made checks on availability and we’ve got an in-house wedding of a former player of ours, so we won’t have the numbers available,” said Wernham.
They say honesty is always the best policy and Bahrain coach Louie Tonkin admits he has no regrets over the club’s part in Abu Dhabi Harlequins being crowned West Asia Premiership champions.
Clubs had been competing in the tournament under the assumption that the league title would be decided via a play-off system.
In fact, rules published by tournament organisers Asia Rugby and sent to clubs before the start of the 2016/17 campaign clearly indicate that the Premiership is played on a league format with the team in first place at the end of the season crowned champions – as was the case in 2015/16.
This anomaly was not brought to light by anyone until Bahrain blew the whistle at the end of February, contacting Quins who had no clue their 47-7 defeat of Jebel Ali Dragons on February 24 meant they were champions.
It cost resurgent Bahrain the championship, but Tonkin insists it was the right thing to do.
“The rules got sent out to all clubs in September and it was clear this was the structure,” the Welshman said ahead of his side’s visit to Quins tomorrow (Friday).
“The issue with other clubs perhaps has been a lack of communication and marketing around the competition. It could have been documented or publicised better and then there would have been no confusion.
“I think that’s something that needs to be improved upon in the coming seasons so that everyone is aware they are two tier competitions.”
Tonkin, who has transformed Bahrain into championship contenders since taking the top job last July, feels Quins are deserving champions.
“I’m a big ambassador of the fact league champions are league champions,” he added.
“It’s a regular season league and the team that consistently wins more than anyone else should rightfully be crowned league champions and I don’t think anyone would complain that Quins have been the most consistent and best side in the league.
“They are rightfully and deservedly the champions. My opinion is there is no case for teams not knowing because the document was there to read from July.”
Bahrain head to Abu Dhabi to take on the champions tomorrow (Friday) but what looks like a mouthwatering spectacle and a possible West Asia Cup final has been dampened by Dubai Hurricanes forfeiting their trip to Doha.
That hands Alex Natera’s side a 20-0 bonus point win, meaning they cannot be caught in second place by Bahrain, thus ensuring a home semi-final for them in the Cup.
“It’s a dead rubber,” added Tonkin.
“We’re really disappointed Canes couldn’t field a side to go to Doha. We had a bit of a lifeline as we had hoped to go to Quins and play for a home semi-final which would be hugely significant. But it happens in Gulf rugby and it is what it is.
“What will be difficult for me and Mike (McFarlane, Quins coach) this week is we have a semi-final to play a week later and out of necessity both teams will have to rest some players.
“All I’ve heard from my players is how much we’ve improved on last season which we have. We went to Quins last season and lost by 100 points so we’re adamant and determined to show how far we have come as a squad and a club in a season.
“It will be played in a good spirit and we’re looking forward to a good game.”
Quins stalwart Ben Bolger has also played down the insignificance of the clash, insisting his side will want to maintain momentum.
“The boys are looking forward to getting back to playing,” he said. “We want to finish the league strong and keep the momentum going.”
Mike Pugsley is confident Dubai Wasps can return to prominence in UAE rugby despite revealing that he is to step down as head coach at the end of the season.
Pugsley, head of rugby at The English College, Dubai, is heading home with his pregnant wife at the end of term following a disappointing two-year spell in charge of the club.
There was a buzz surrounding Wasps when the Welshman took the helm in the summer of 2015, at a time when the club had just endured the most tumultuous season of their existence.
The 2014/15 campaign had started on a sour note when the club was fined Dh10,000 by the UAE Rugby Federation for failing to send a member of staff on a medical course.
Worse was to come as they were relegated from the UAE Premiership, and it’s been a slow descent into decline ever since.
Pugsley, who had previously coached Sharjah Wanderers for four years, led the club to sixth place in the UAE Conference in 2015/16, although they failed to reach the Top 6 play-off final – but 2016/17 has been full of woe for Wasps.
They finished 10th of 11 teams in this year’s Conference, with just two wins from 10 games, and have little chance of ending the campaign with silverware as they are currently bottom of the Bottom 5 competition following two opening defeats.
“It’s been a frustrating season for a number of different reasons,” said the 32-year-old.
“We lost a few players at the end of last year which hit us quite hard and we’ve lost a number of boys throughout the season, like our captain, to a long term injuries which have disrupted things.
“General availability hasn’t allowed us to pick our strongest team or given us any kind of consistency with team selection. As well as that we’ve been quite poor too and discipline has been a massive problem for us.
“I think we gave 27 penalties away against Sharjah for example so it’s been a big, big issue, as well as failing to convert pressure into points.”
Unlike the early days when they were known as Xodus Wasps from 2013 thanks to financial backing, these days the club is run by just three people.
Pugsley coaches two senior teams while Laurence Parker and Ben Rothwell juggle playing duties while acting as joint chairmen.
And despite their continuing troubles, Pugsley hopes happier times are on the horizon.
“We’re only a three man club, between me, Laurence and Ben,” he said.
“We haven’t got the big backing, resources and sponsorships like other clubs have got so we’ve done well fulfilling all fixtures across both men’s teams. We’ve got the women’s team going too so I’m confident the club can go on to bigger and better things.
“It’s just about retaining players for next year and hopefully recruiting some coaches and other personnel, like team managers, to help out at the club, because doing it between the three of us, with Ben and Lawrence also playing as well as being co-chairmen and me the only coach across two squads for forwards and backs, it’s difficult.
“They are doing the job of three or four people and trying to play so it’s very difficult for them.”
Wasps are seven points of the top two in the Bottom 5 and lost a heartbreaker 19-17 to Arabian Knights last weekend, but Pugsley is determined to fight to the death and hopes he can sign off with a sting in the tail.
“I’m hoping to bounce back from recent weeks. We’ve still got a chance to get into the Bottom 5 play-offs and that’s what we’re going for now,” he added.
“It’s been tough, again we’ve been really unlucky with availability and injuries to key positions. We’ve looked the better side in the majority of matches but just haven’t managed to get that winning score on too many occasions.”