Abu Dhabi Harlequins will retain their Western Clubs Champions League trophy with victory against Kandy on Friday – but Mike McFarlane has described the game as simply “another stepping stone” towards the Gulf rugby season kick-off next week.
Quins won a thrilling contest 36-32 against Bahrain last Friday in the curtain-raiser for the Asia Rugby-organised tournament, but both teams must now travel to Sri Lanka as it is held in multiple countries for the first time.
Although McFarlane has bigger priorities, he is of course keen to retain a trophy that kick-started their unprecedented haul of silverware in 2016/17.
“It’s another stepping stone in our preparations for the season starting next week,” he said.
“However, the incentive of retaining the trophy is there, I’m not going to deny that. That aside, it’s another opportunity for players within a large squad to stake a claim for a starting jersey by performing well against a high quality outfit.
“We know they are dangerous with some large forwards and a back line that’s electric on the sevens circuit so no doubt they will look to play expansive rugby.
“All I can ask of the players is that we step up, put into practice the focuses we have looked at this week and then reflect on whether we have been clinical enough in achieving our targets.”
Kandy have featured in all three editions of the tournament so far, since they first entered along with Abu Dhabi Saracens, Doha and Kazakhstan’s Olymp in 2015.
Sean Wijesinghe’s side are heavily depleted by a raft of players away with the Sri Lanka national team busy preparing for the second leg of the Asia Sevens Series in South Korea next weekend, but he insists it’s a great chance for his youngsters to make their mark.
“We will not be playing 11 of our senior players due to the ongoing Asian Sevens Series, as well as a few players recovering from injuries,” Wijesinghe revealed.
“But it will be a great opportunity for the young boys to show their talents on a big stage. That will give the young boys a great opportunity to play some tough opponents. There’ll be six debutants, five of whom are school leavers who only finished their A Levels last week.
“We’ve had three weeks of training as our season is still eight weeks away.
“We played Quins last year and they are a very good side. I was told this year’s team is even better so we know what is in front of us, but I’m pretty sure our boys will adapt.”
Kandy have travelled to the UAE for both previous editions of the tournament and Wijesinghe said it is special for them to be able to bring the tournament to Sri Lanka.
“It is a great opportunity for Kandy Sports Club to host this tournament for the first time in Sri Lanka and we are really looking forward to it,” he said.
“We are grateful to be in this tournament for the third consecutive year. The first year we came runners-up and last year we didn’t do well, losing both games. But this year is so special for us as both games will be on our home pitch.”
For Quins fans not travelling with the team, the game will be streamed live on thepapare.com