Abu Dhabi Saracens' tough summer continues as Winston Cowie steps down as head coach

A summer of woe but chairman Jay Danielson says positive vibes swarm around Sarries ahead of the new season

Matt Jones
by Matt Jones
12th September 2017

article:12th September 2017

The problems keep mounting for Abu Dhabi Saracens who are set to start the new season without a home and a head coach after Winston Cowie announced he has stepped down.

The New Zealander cited work and family commitments as the reason for relinquishing the role he only took up last summer.


A group of senior players are shouldering the burden in the wake of Cowie’s deicision – including director of rugby Stephen Hamilton, flanker Jonny Taylor, lock Phanta Quinsile and club captain Andy Baker.

It’s been a tough summer for Sarries – the UAE’s second youngest club after newly-formed Dubai Eagles having been established only in 2011 – having been ravaged of star players including former skipper and UAE behemoth Jaen Botes, who left for Dubai Exiles, while Craig Nutt, Murray Reason, Sean Stevens and Garth van Niekerk all defected to rivals Harlequins.

On top of that they were dealt a further blow at the beginning of August when Al Ghazal Golf Club was suddenly shut – leaving them, for now, without a home field for the 2017/18 season.

Chairman Jay Danielson has been stuck in the Emirates during the summer following passport issues surrounding the birth of his second child – although it’s probably a good job with plenty for him to do at the club too.

“Winnie has a lot of family and work commitments and he said managing those would not compatible with the level of effort required to be a full-time coach too,” said the Australian, who remains upbeat.

“Over last few months Winnie and I have had several chats. Coaching is not something you can half do and he was very honest about saying he didn’t want to do something half-a***d. We were very open and honest with each other and he will remain a loyal supporter of the club.”

The senior playing group will lead the team into the new West Asia and UAE Premiership seasons, set to begin with a trip to The Sevens to take on Dubai Hurricanes on September 22.

Pete Henderson, meanwhile, is in charge of the second team who will play in the third-tier Community League and open up against reigning champions Jebel Ali Dragons 3rds on the same day.

Hamilton and the now departed Nutt previously took on player-coach roles in 2015/16 following Ali Thompson’s departure but Danielson insists he wants a full-time coach in place before the end of the year.

“Coaches are not growing on trees here in the UAE, so I’m chatting to some people both locally and abroad,” he said.

“It’s certainly my aim to put in a coach as opposed to a player coach, although players are filling in the void among the senior playing group, and they are doing a good job of it too.”

Jay Danielson (c), pictured with director of rugby Steve Hamilton (r) and the departed Craig Nutt

Jay Danielson (c), pictured with director of rugby Steve Hamilton (r) and the departed Craig Nutt

Despite the upheaval and the fact he always seems to be putting out a fire, Danielson insists confidence is high going into the new campaign.

“We’re still positive, numbers are good at training, which is excellent,” added Danielson.

“There’s been a lot of players moving on, moving home, moving to Dubai, so it’s encouraging to see so many new faces.

“I was told there were 30 people at training on Monday and there haven’t really been those sorts of numbers on a Monday night at Saracens training in the last few years I’ve been there.

“We have the second team playing in the Community League team and some old boys have come out of the woodwork too, so we definitely have two full teams.

“We have a lot of international flair too, with a few new French guys showing up, we’ve got two Italians, which is great to see.

“There’s been a big recruitment drive and the guys have done a really good job. I think we lost seven front rowers – no other club even has seven front rowers.

“It’s been a challenge but the boys have stepped up. It will be a challenging season we know but we have Canes on September 22, Jebel Ali for the twos and we’ll have a few bus loads going down to Dubai for both games so we can’t wait.”


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