Mike McFarlane praises attitudes of players after Abu Dhabi Harlequins claim quintuple

Matt Jones 8/04/2017
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Harlequins players celebrate their UAE Premiership win

Emosi Ratuvecanaua lay strewn on the ground, motionless as his ecstatic teammates jumped and danced around him after his 80th minute try had clinched the quintuple.

The exhausted Fijian could only lie prone as physio Patrick Milton tended to him after he had given what little energy he had left into a brilliant 30m burst find his way to the line to settle the match.

His second try of the game killed off a spirited Dragons effort in the UAE Premiership final, with a 30-20 victory at Dubai Sports City confirming Quins as champions of five trophies this season.

Ratuvecanaua had given every last drop of effort he had left this season to secure the quintuple, something head coach Mike McFarlane said symbolised why his players have reached such unprecedented levels of success in 2016/17.

“It’s a long old season and they’ve put in the work and been relentless since June,” said McFarlane after the final whistle.

“I said to them in the changing rooms before the game ‘you’ve got yourselves here today’. They’ve been guided but they’ve put in the work. They’ve all got jobs, families, but they’re hitting the extra training sessions, getting the strength and conditioning results.

“What we’ve set up for them, they’ve taken to the next level by having such enormous expectations of themselves and today crowns all that incredible hard work and the five out of five. It’s an outstanding achievement, I can’t ask for anything more.”

Barry Dwyer celebrates with tryscorer Emosi Ratuvecanaua

Barry Dwyer celebrates with tryscorer Emosi Ratuvecanaua

On the final day of the domestic rugby season, Quins were given arguably one of their sternest tests. Dragons had lost all three previous encounters to their famous old foes this season. It was if that pent-up frustration manifested itself into one final 80 minutes of rugby.

Henry Paul’s side came in as underdogs, had nothing to lose and threw absolutely everything they had at Quins for one final time this season.

“You’re never going to get an easy game against Dragons. They’re a well drilled team that carry an attacking threat,” said McFarlane of a team Quins had beat 47-7 to win the West Asia Premiership at the end of February – this result an anomaly for clashes between the sides this term.

Things could have been very different had Dan Bell potted a tough-looking penalty from about 40 metres out and near to the touchline with three minutes remaining and Quins leading 23-20.

It went just wide and Ratuvecanaua then sealed the win.

Mike McFarlane

Mike McFarlane

McFarlane added: “We dealt with it and I thought we were really excellent today. At the breakdown I thought we were exceptional. I thought we deserved it, perhaps by a bigger margin, and that’s not anything against them, I just thought we were outstanding.

“I’m really chuffed for the boys. It’s an incredible achievement (to win five trophies), never been done before and we’ve really taken rugby to the next level.”

After winning everything on offer this season, it’s difficult to see how this season can be toppled. Knowing perfectionist McFarlane, he will find a way. Although he wants his players to enjoy the break between now and pre-season.

“Despite an incredible achievement, this won’t be the end for us and we want to be going to greater heights next year. It’s the Quins way. We’re looking for the next step, what is it, how can we achieve it,” he said.
“But there will be time off now for the boys to enjoy some rest and recovery and more importantly some family time.”

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Quins expecting close game with Dragons

Matt Jones 6/04/2017
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Walsh's men were dominant earlier in the season.

Eddie Walsh expects a much closer affair when his Abu Dhabi Harlequins meet Jebel Ali Dragons in the Community League final on Friday

Quins thrashed Ian Jones’ side 72-24 in October but Walsh predicts one score will settle the final, to be played at Dubai Sports City.

“They’ve turned their season around so we’re expecting a different beast this time around,” said the Quins coach.

“I think their pride will still be hurt from that game and they’ll come at us all guns blazing.”

Defeat to Quins proved to be the only defeat of the season for Dragons, who went on to win their other seven games as they finished top of the pile, one point ahead of Quins.

Walsh, whose side also lost once too, a 7-5 defeat to Dubai Wasps 2nds, added: “Earlier in the season we played a bit of a weakened Dragons and won 72-24. It was second or third game and we ended up playing without front rows so I don’t think that was a true reflection of Dragons, it was just an aberration.

“I can’t imagine there’ll be more than one score in the game. But we have confidence and we’re looking forward to playing these guys.”

Walsh revealed he and his players had not believed they would be playing for silverware at the start of the campaign, but said his charges are chomping at the bit for the final having played just twice in 2017.

“The guys are over the moon. We haven’t had a game in a few weeks and only played twice since Christmas so there’s a lot of pent up frustration, everyone’s amped for the final,” he said.

“We started off as a developmental, social team, and I don’t think at the start of the season anyone would have envisioned us making a final, let alone having three teams in a final. What’s happened this year is simply unbelievable.”

Jones, meanwhile, is hoping Dragons can go one better after losing at the same stage last year to Beaver Nomads.

“The boys are full of confidence and the energy in camp this week has been great,” said Jones.

“We are expecting a hard game against Quins but hope to do our club and sponsors proud by starting the day off with a win. Dragons are really excited to be in the final and make up for the disappointing loss last year to Beavers.”

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Al Ain Amblers aiming to prove they’re back on their feet

Matt Jones 5/04/2017
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Emosi Ratuvecanaua (l) was one of the star names to leave Al Ain in the summer

Al Ain Amblers hope to complete a miraculous turnaround by lifting the UAE Conference crown when they meet Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the Top 6 final tomorrow (Friday).

Amblers’ 2016/17 season started disastrously when the senior side withdrew from the UAE Premiership after just one game in September with rivals ravaging them of their star players during the summer.

They fielded just one team in the Conference and their turnaround following an undercooked start there – in addition to their Premiership nightmare – will surely go down as the biggest feel-good story of the season.

“For me the final is deserved with what we’ve been through,” said Amblers’ director of rugby Rocco De Bruyn, who stepped into the coaching void when initial incumbent Niekie van Blerk returned to South Africa following a job offer.

“It’s a big surprise, it was not expected at all. I was hoping to win a few games to get the spirit and morale up but the winning culture has gone from strength to strength and the boys are playing their best.”

Despite three opening defeats in the Conference, things started to pick up for Al Ain and they won five of their next seven, with a final day 63-10 mauling of Abu Dhabi Saracens 2nds seeing De Bruyn’s boys scrape into the Top 6 reckoning thanks to a superior points tally over Heratbeat Tigers.

There the Garden City side flourished, finishing top with four wins and just one loss – including victories over early-season pacesetters Dubai Exiles 2nds and Jebel Ali Dragons 2nds.

In fact their only defeat was in their last game – a 34-33 loss to tomorrow’s final opponents Quins.

Although they have lost star names like Esekaia Dranibota and Emosi Ratuvecanaua to Quins, Sakiusa Naisau to Dragons and Jerry Kilicanasau to Exiles, De Bruyn insists the club’s famous spirit remains.

“Nothing has changed. We lost all those players at the start and a few boys have since gone, so we don’t have individuals as strong as we did but we have a great team spirit,” added the South African.

“Things are good at the club and the guys are in good spirits. I don’t think there’s a coach who doesn’t want to be in a final. Our short term goal was to reach the Top 6 which we just did and once there obviously we wanted to go for the final.”

Mike McFarlane

Mike McFarlane

De Bruyn has been in the UAE for a decade and has been on the Amblers’ board for five years. And although he has only served as an assistant coach to the club’s under-14 side previously, he said it was the right thing to do take the reins once Van Blerk departed.

He added: “Niekie went back to South Africa as he got a good job offer and his family were still back there too, he’s got two sons 10 and 12 so dad needed to be there, so he had to make the call. Family comes first.

“We needed to find a new coach but instead of that I said I’d step in and do what I could for the rest of the season, and the guys have really stepped up.

“I’ve not coached since I’ve been here for 10 years, but it helps that the guys have been willing and enthusiastic.”

Quins finished six points adrift of Amblers in second, but with many of the team having pushed for first team places throughout the campaign, coach Mike McFarlane is expecting them to provide stern opponents.

“The quality of the twos team is incredible,” he said.

“Week in, week out we have 50 plus lads pushing for spots in the first and the second team with boys still missing out.

“This a deserved final for the endless hours of hard work they’ve put in since pre-season. The twos play some fantastic rugby and will take it to Al Ain this weekend in the final.”

In the Bottom 5 final, meanwhile, Dubai Sharks face Heartbeat Tigers for a chance to salvage some silverware from the season.

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