Kristian Stinson admits the majority of Dubai Exiles players “let themselves down” last season, but the club captain revealed everyone is hungry and determined to right the wrongs of a disastrous campaign.
After several years in the wilderness, the UAE’s oldest club rampaged to the UAE Premiership and West Asia Premiership double two years ago under the guidance of Jacques Benade.
But Exiles flopped in defence of both titles as they slumped to fifth and fourth-placed finishes in Asia and domestically respectively in 2016/17 – a malaise that would have been an even bigger disappointment as they celebrated their 50th anniversary.
But pre-season has been positive, with the acquisitions of Jaen Botes and Lehan Koekemoer, among others, from Abu Dhabi Saracens bolstering the ranks, while Munster’s former Heineken Cup-winning centre Denis Hurley has come on board as assistant coach.
And, with Stinson heading into his final season after a decade of playing in the UAE, the skipper is determined to go out on a high.
“We know we let ourselves down last year and really didn’t kick on from the success of the previous year,” said Northern Irishman Stinson, 32.
“There were perhaps a lot of boys who let themselves down last year but in many respects it’s going to be better for us in the long run as we don’t want another year like that again.
“Last year was such a damp squip for so many reasons and to be fair to the Quins, they were incredible. Even if we were at our best, we probably still wouldn’t have got close to them. They played some excellent rugby as did the other clubs.”
Stinson started his career in the Emirates with Exiles in 2007. He spent two years with Dubai Hurricanes between 2010-12 before returning to Exiles, having also earned four UAE caps along the way.
He and wife Emma welcomed daughter Ayla into the world this summer, the main reason why the veteran prop is deciding to call it a day at the end of the term – albeit in the hope the finale of the season is a happier one than the last.
“I’m still club captain and want to go out on a high,” added Stinson.
“I’ve started every game for the last two years that I’ve been available for and this year I’m having to fight every session to keep my head
In the frame, because competition is outstanding.
“There’s about 25 new boys in total for us but very few of us oldies left.”
Although Exiles’ summer recruitment drive has been largely fruitful, they have also said goodbye to some key players. Veteran winger/full-back Matt Richards has gone to Jebel Ali Dragons, scrum-half Ed Armitage has returned home to the UK, while captain Glenn Moore, who got married in his native Northern Ireland at the weekend, has retired, with winger Ed James forced to call it a day following a nasty injury suffered last season.
Hurley came into the club in May with Exiles beginning pre-season training at the beginning of June. A large squad of players has been training consistently since then, with the return to fitness of classy fly-half Durandt Gerber and flanker Danny Waddy – one of the few standouts from last season – meaning confidence is high within the camp.
“We have worked really hard for the last eight weeks and really put a lot of effort in,” added Stinson.
“We’re looking seriously competitive in terms of numbers and quality.
“The atmosphere is incredible at the moment, there’s so much positivity about the squad. A lot of bonding off the pitch has been paying dividends on it. We had 25 boys out paddle boarding (earlier this week) and have got a pre-season trip to Al Ain this weekend too.
“So now the focus is on doing the reps in training, building a full senior squad that shares the same core values and beliefs and wants to go out and challenge for the championships.
“With the players we’ve recruited so far and the coaching set up of Jacques and Denis and the facilities we have as a club, it now really comes down to us, the players, to decide what we want to achieve this season.
“And so far it’s all very positive, but we’re not taking anything for granted. We have to train hard, put in the reps and hope for a bit of luck along the way. Either way, it’s going to be a tough season. But we’re looking to be much more competitive than last year.”