Their emergence has led to fears clubs could be ravaged of players – including his own – but Dubai Hurricanes director of rugby Mike Wernham believes the emergence of Dubai Eagles is a good thing for rugby in the UAE.
Rumours the new Dubai Sports City outfit would feature next season was confirmed at the start of July when the new 2017/18 calendar was released, immediately leading to fears that a centrally located top tier club in the UAE’s second city would result in mass player exoduses from other Dubai clubs.
And while the likes of Dubai Sharks and Arabian Knights have been left searching for a new home – having essentially been kicked out of DSC – Wernham is happy the Eagles have landed.
This is despite the fact Canes have lost hooker and UAE international Josh Ives to the newly established outfit over the summer.
“We haven’t lost, at this moment, too many players. Just Josh Ives so far who’s joined their coaching staff as a rugby development officer,” said Wernham.
“It’s more of a career path move rather than wanting to leave Hurricanes. We’re sad to see Josh go, being a UAE player and an outstanding club man, but we completely understood it.”
Sharks are one side who have reportedly seen a clutch of players leave for Eagles, while consternation greeted the news that the long-time Sports City residents, as well as Knights, had been issued an ultimatum of join the new team or find a new home.
But Wernham welcomes them. “It’s an exciting prospect what’s coming to Sports City. I know Sean Carey (Eagles director of rugby) well, having been a former Canes player,” Wernham said.
“What they’ve got there, I’m a huge believer in that we should be trying to grow rugby in the UAE and Middle East so they did have our full support, we’re encouraging them, we just want to make sure it’s done in the right way.
“There was a bit of a surprise the way it came out suddenly at the end of the season via one email. There had been rumours circulating for two or three years.
“But having spoke to Josh it seems numbers are getting bigger each session and we’re looking forward to going there and hosting them next season.”
Wernham says he has been hugely encouraged by the club’s start to pre-season, with average numbers at gym sessions hitting 45, while they have also been busy on the recruitment front too. Former Wales Under-20, Wales sevens and Newport Gwent Dragons winger Matthew Pewtner has been appointed as the club’s new back coach.
Wernham added: “Matthew’s was an absolutely superb CV to read. He played for Newport Gwent Dragons for 10 years, played on the international sevens circuit too.
“It came by chance and after a few Skype interviews we know he’s going to be a great addition, he’s excited to be coming out and joining Hurricanes.”
Pewtner, 26, arrives in Dubai having been forced to retire from playing in early 2016 due to concussion concerns.
“As a result of Eagles coming and setting up at Sports City, it’s meant several guys leaving clubs around there,” said Wernham.
“We’re not a club that goes heavy in terms of recruitment. We just like to try and send a message of what we offer and give the best experience possible. We’re always going to remain competitive as possible and what we give in return is a competitive package.
“We’ve got some really good experience and some really good younger guys too. And we know with new teachers coming in for the new term, that will raise competition too and keep everyone on their toes.”
Their future remains uncertain, but Doha coach Alex Natera insists his troops will be working hard when pre-season begins early next month.
Due to the severing of political ties between several Gulf nations and Qatar in June, Doha had been expected to be left out in the wilderness in 2017/18.
They were ousted from the region’s premier rugby competition, the West Asia Premiership, when the UAE Rugby Federation sent out an initial calendar of domestic competition dates via email at the beginning of July.
Asia Rugby have since confirmed that Doha could be allowed to participate if their fixtures are played at a neutral venue, most likely Muscat, a move that has been met by mixed reactions in the Emirates.
Whatever the future holds, head coach Natera insists his men will be playing rugby next season.
“All I know is we start pre-season on August 7 and I just want my boys focused on getting fit and preparing to play good rugby this season,” said Natera.
“We will be playing rugby that’s for sure. We’d love to be playing Bahrain and the top UAE teams but if politics gets in the way of that, this season we’ll still play rugby and that’s the most important thing.
“All that’s on my mind right now is that from the 7th I have around eight weeks to get my boys ready to play better than last season – against who and where is not up to me.”
Just as UAE clubs are skeptical as to Doha’s inclusion in the Premiership next season, Natera doesn’t feel playing in Muscat will be beneficial to the club.
“There was a suggestion to hold our away games in Muscat and keep our home games as they are,” he added.
“The club would lose far too much revenue to not host our home games. I can’t see Muscat being an option to be honest. I’ve heard loads of different options but nothing is anywhere near concrete yet.
“I’ve heard we might join the Sri Lankan league and I’ve heard we may drop down to the Conference and miss the two or so games that we can’t travel to. I’ve heard we may pick up friendly matches throughout the season with Lebanon, Jordan and Sri Lankan teams. Who knows.”
As the dust settles on another Lions series, Chris Bailey assesses the performances of Warren Gatland’s 41-man squad in New Zealand.
What do you make of our ratings?
Mako Vunipola – 6: No prop gets through more work in the loose than him, but marked down for second Test horrorshow
Jack McGrath – 6: That he could not displace a shaky Vunipola tells you that the Irishman was not at his best.
Joe Marler – 5: A distant third in the pecking order at loosehead. Liable to lose his head
Dan Cole – 6: Performed his job admirably, limited but one of the biggest grafters on tour
Tadhg Furlong – 7: Not as effective around the park as Vunipola, but kept his side of the scrum solid enough
Kyle Sinckler – 8: Many were questioning why the England rookie was called up. Not anymore. Destructive finisher
Rory Best – 7: Powers are waning at age of 34 but an impeccable mid-week leader
Ken Owens – 6: Still looks a little lightweight at Test level. Lucky not to cost Lions right at the end.
Jamie George – 8: If he can start for the Lions, he can start for England. Still room to improve.
Maro Itoje – 8: Was a little overexcited in the second Test, a behemoth in the third. The sky may not be the limit.
Alun Wyn Jones – 7: A mid-tour scapegoat who can now hold his head high. Nine Lions Tests, some going.
Courtney Lawes – 8: Fully over his mid-career slump. Left bruises all over All blacks with his carries.
George Kruis – 6: Unlucky to be second-row fall guy after the first Test. Didn’t take his chance though.
Iain Henderson – 7: Possibly never been a stronger set of Lions locks, the unfortunate victim.
Peter O’Mahony – 6: Led by example all the way up until the first Test, in which he was sadly dominated
Sean O’Brien – 9: The Tullow Tank, after four years of nearly constant injury, delivered his best form
Sam Warburton – 8: Even tour place had been in question, but the skipper came in for second Test and slowed All Blacks ball right down
Justin Tipuric – 6 Solid performer and did not miss a tackle, but Test place blocked by O’Brien and Warburton
James Haskell – 5 Abrasive as always but too often on wrong side of the line in this tour
CJ Stander – 6 Usually a bulldozer in an Ireland shirt, at best a mini-van for the Lions
Ross Moriarty – 5 Highly promising start to tour cruelly ended by a back injury early on
Taulupe Faletau – 8: One of the big winners, stopped most talking about the injured Billy Vunipola
Rhys Webb – 7: Best compliment you can pay to him is that no one would have been worried if he started Tests
Conor Murray – 8 Expert box kicker and deadly sniper, his duels with fellow No9 Aaron Smith were a highlight
Greig Laidlaw – 5 Late call-up and looked one or two classes apart from master scrum-halves Webb and Murray
Dan Biggar – 8: Could do nothing more to prove himself in tour games, but Sexton and Farrell were immovable
Jonathan Sexton – 8: Gatland put his faith in the Irishman when most others had lost theirs. Brought edge to attack.
Owen Farrell – 7: Did not see vintage Farrell yet generally linked with Sexton well and grew into his kicking boots
Ben T’eo – 7: Lung-busting breaks caught the eye but ultimately his ball skills were not up to scratch at inside centre
Jonathan Davies – 9: Named Lions’ player of the tour and deservedly so. Gave every ounce of energy for the cause
Jonathan Joseph – 6: Had no chance up against the in-form Davies at No13 and was not a standout regardless
Robbie Henshaw – 5: Touted to make Test impact before tour, but disappointing summer ended in injury
Jared Payne – 5: Weighed down by injuries and is currently under observation for spate of migraines
Elliot Daly – 8: Is wing his position? Maybe not – but he makes things happen. Humongous boot a real boon for the Lions
Tommy Seymour – 6: Started slowly and that counted against him, but finished Lions’ top try-scorer
Anthony Watson – 8: A shame that play was often narrow and Lions did not make more use of his dancing feet
George North – 5: Looked almost lethargic at times and his best could already be behind him at age of 25
Jack Nowell – 7: Very shaky in tour opener v Blues, but grew in stature and gained Test bench spot
Liam Williams – 7: Sparked one of Test rugby’s great tries in the first All Blacks clash, unsure under high ball
Leigh Halfpenny – 6: Never the most electric of backs, but has regressed since 2013. Still one of world’s best kickers.
Stuart Hogg – 5: Conor Murray’s elbow will haunt him for years to come. Scarcely been an unluckier injury.