Two teams who will consider themselves among the favourites for the UAE Conference title glory this season clash in the capital on Friday as Abu Dhabi Harlequins 2nds welcome Dubai Exiles 2nds to Zayed Sports City.
Quins won an epic Conference Top 6 final in April – requiring extra time to beat Al Ain Amblers thanks to a sudden death Kent Watene try – so will be the team everyone is looking to beat this term.
After a promising first half of the season, Exiles fell away in the Top 6, missing out on the final as resurgent Amblers came from almost nowhere, and coach Gareth Venter believes it will be just as ferociously contested in 2017/18.
“I think that the Conference this year is going to be really competitive – there are some really good teams that have top players in all positions,” said the South African.
“We’ve had a good start with a decent pre-season with consistent numbers. The second half against the Knights showed the rugby we want to play. Last week we got stuck in a very physical meeting against the Tigers in what were humid and wet conditions that didn’t allow us to play our patterns.”
Exiles opened the campaign with a convincing 46-7 defeat of Arabian Knights but were edged out 8-7 by Heartbeat Tigers a week ago. And Venter is looking forward to the challenge ahead in Abu Dhabi.
“Quins this week away will be demanding – they are a very good team and will always be challenging for silverware come end of season,” he said.
“We have trained well this week and we are positive we will be able to play the rugby we want. As always we look forward to the challenge and will take it one match at a time.”
Amblers’ director of rugby Rocco De Bruyn is in temporary charge of the team for Friday’s trip to Tigers with head coach Sean Emmett back home in Australia, and he will be looking for more of the same from his side after a spirited 41-29 loss at home to Dubai Hurricanes 2nds last week.
“Although we picked up a couple of injuries in our first game, we still have a competent team that will travel to take on Tigers,” said the South African.
“We are well aware that we are in for another bone crunching outing and that Tigers can never be underestimated. Our first league game vs Canes was hard and we did not perform as well as we wished, but the lads are fostering a very positive attitude and we hope that this will pay off soon.”
Sharjah Wanderers, champions two seasons ago, are back in action after a week’s break and host Dubai Sharks, who have lost both of their games so far.
“We had a great start against Canes two weeks ago, who have stolen the win off us the past two times we faced them,” said chairman Shane Breen.
“It was far from what we’re capable of but it was our first game so there were a lot of positives to take away.
“We had a week off last week so our focus has been on addressing areas of our game that were poor in the Canes game.
“We welcome sharks to Sharjah for our first home game which we’re excited about. Sharks have become a competitive side over the past few years and will be massively disappointed with their result last weekend.
“However, we’re not focusing on anything other than our own systems and performance.”
Over in the Community League, meanwhile, RAK Rugby head to Beaver Nomads after a confidence-boosting opening day win over Abu Dhabi Harlequins 4ths – although the hosts will be hopeful after blowing away Knights 2nds 95-0 on the opening weekend.
It’s been a summer of positive change for the northern outfit, who finally settled on a new name and have also got a new grass pitch as well as a head coach in former Dubai Hurricanes prop and UAE international Craig Chapman.
“RAK are really looking forward to playing the Nomads, as it will be a real test of the work and changes put in over the last few weeks since Craig Chapman became our director of rugby,” said chairman Simon Williams.
“There’s been a massive change to attitude, commitment and discipline under his direction, as well as moving to playing on grass.
“This has led to a number of new players joining, the majority of which have slotted into this weekend’s 22-man squad. You can see the guys working hard to earn a place in the team, it’s genuinely exciting.
“I’m particularly pleased to see the collaboration we have done with Fujairah’s East Coast Bulls pay off with Jaco Diedericks playing his first game for RAK and making it into the first team.
“Nomads are a tough, quality side and the drills and plays we have worked on will be tested to the limit. We do, however, have a strong side and learnt a lot on areas we need to work on following the bonus point win over Abu Dhabi Harlequins last weekend.
“It was the first time the club has ever won on opening game but really we should have doubled that score.”
Amblers 2nds, meanwhile, have seen several of their senior players called up to the first team Conference squad, but De Bruyn is still confident of putting out a competitive side at home to Abu Dhabi Saracens 2nds.
“Luckily we still have enough numbers to take on Saracens,” he said.
“The boys are looking forward to the game, they have been committed to training sessions like we have not seen the last couple of years. This will be a home game due to Al Ghazal’s closure.”
UAE in Jordan
Elsewhere this weekend, the UAE head to Jordan this weekend to take part in the third annual Arab Rugby 7s Championship. The championship will be held at Petra University and features eight Arab nations for the first time – with the UAE competing alongside hosts Jordan, as well as Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Lebanon and Palestine.
Head coach Apollo Perelini has picked a 12-man squad for the tournament, including Hamad Al Shkeli, Mohamed Al Shamsi, Younes Al Blooshi,
Majid Al Balooshi, Mohammad Al Alwi, Juma Al Mheiri, Yousuf Lashkari, Saeed Saad, Adel Mohammed, Ahmed Al Shei, Thani Al Mheiri and Maktoom Al Hajj.
The UAE are in Group B alongside Iraq, Libya and Jordan and face Iraq in the opener on Friday.