The awards keep rolling in for Abu Dhabi Harlequins and captain Ben Bolger, but the inspirational skipper insists any one of his Quins team-mates could have won the UAE Rugby Senior Player of the Season.
The Englishman was awarded the accolade at the UAE Rugby Annual Awards on Saturday, but was too busy doing what he does best – prowling around a rugby field, at UAE training – to pick up his trophy in person.
Instead he was presented with it by UAE Rugby performance manager Apollo Perelini at The Sevens – once training had finished, of course – with Perelini revealing that in just his second year of eligibility for his adopted nation, Bolger will captain the UAE on their upcoming tour of Malaysia.
“Rugby’s a big part of everyone’s life out here so to get recognition for playing well in a pool of really talented players is obviously really humbling,” said Bolger, 27.
“At the end of the day the boys on the (Quins) team were fantastic and it was difficult to pick out man of the match every week. I couldn’t do it without them and it could have easily been one of the other boys (winning this award).”
If you’ve ever been present at a Quins game, Bolger will quickly be identifiable. Either via his industrious style of play which can see him pop up anywhere and everywhere on the field, or his constant cajoling of team-mates and seemingly never-ending dialogue.
“It’s just in me. I’m a bit of a loud mouth, I like to be in the mix and I think sub-consciously it makes my game better when I’m tuned in, pushing other boys,” admitted Bolger.
“It gives me accountability to make sure I’m leading from the front and doing my job well. By being a leader it makes me the best player I can be.”
A week on from Quins crowning an unprecedented season of success by adding the UAE Premiership to their West Asia Premiership, Dubai Sevens, West Asia Cup and Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League titles, Bolger admits he’s had time to reflect on the magnitude of just what he and his colleagues have achieved.
“We had a bit of a get-together on Thursday and it really sunk in then, an incredible year that I’m sure everyone involved won’t forget for years to come,” he added.
Although most of his team-mates at club level can now look forward to reflecting on just what a huge achievement they reached in 2016/17 during the summer months off, Bolger has no such luxury, nor do you imagine would he want such as he looks ahead to leading the UAE in their Asia Rugby Championship campaign.
After playing a part in helping the UAE to conquer Division I in Uzbekistan a year ago as vice-captain, Bolger will now lead from the front as the UAE take on Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines – with a shot at not only joining the elite top three of Asia on offer, but also a possible chance to be part of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
And in typical bullish fashion, Bolger has no interest in going to Malaysia to make up the numbers.
“We’ll take one step at a time but our focus is to go and win this,” he said.
“I think we’ll be doing ourselves an injustice if we say we’re going there to compete. With the way the league is locally it’s too strong, there’s too many good players to say we’ll go over there and have a good crack. We’re going out to win. We have the team.
“We’ve still got three or four weeks until the tournament, we’ve still got a lot of work to do but we know we want to go out there and win. We’re not going to beat around the bush. I think we’ve picked the right squad and we’re looking forward to getting going.”
Perelini stepped things up with a grueling five-hour session in the burning April sun on Saturday. The UAE will now move to two-a-week training sessions ahead of departing for Ipoh early next month, with the hosts first up on May 14.
They will also play a UAE Conference Select XV at The Sevens on Friday, with a match against a UAE Premiership Select XV the following week in Sharjah.
“It’s fantastic, and every week we’re looking sharper,” added Bolger. “We’re playing a bit of a different style to the other teams, and everyone’s learning different patterns, but everyone’s coming together. I think it’s encouraging.”
And the flanker is looking forward to playing among another band of newcomers to the UAE set-up this year, with the likes of Jebel Ali Dragons scrum-half Kris Greene, Dubai Hurricanes fly-half Andy Powell, Dubai Exiles Number 8 Glenn Moore and fellow Quins, fly-half Luke Stevenson, all reaching eligibility this season.
“They’re 100 per cent adding value to what we already have,” he added.
“It’s nice there’s quite a few lads who’ve been there one, two or three years now to keep the ethos going and give boys advice on what to expect from the other Asian teams.
“It’s fantastic to get to know more boys you play week in week out but don’t actually get a chance to know personally. It’s really exciting and I’m really looking forward to getting going.”