Regardless of the result when they take on Dubai Hurricanes in the West Asia Trophy final on Friday, Josh Ives insists Dubai Eagles will be flying high at the final whistle.
It’s been a testing debut campaign for Eagles, established just months before the 2017/18 campaign got underway. Andrew O’Driscoll’s men have won just two games all season – both against Abu Dhabi Saracens.
The second of those was a commanding 53-7 triumph in the Trophy semi-final a week ago, setting up a chance to have another tussle with Hurricanes and an upportunity to end the season on a high.
Games between the pair have been competitive this season, with Canes triumphing 28-12 in October and 36-23 in the two West Asia Premiership encounters.
And Ives insists all the pressure is on the reigning Trophy champions.
“This was always our target this season, to be in this situation in this game,” said the Eagles scrum-half.
“As far as the campaign goes I’m hugely proud of the lads and what they’ve achieved. Regardless of the result I’ll be sleeping happy.
“The game will be tight, if we can get a handle on that scrum and stop those big lads up front just a little I believe we have patterns and individuals that can nick the game.
“We have nothing to lose this game, we’ll be chucking absolutely everything at them. All the pressure is on them which is quite nice. Expect to see a lot of happy Eagles at the final whistle, regardless of the scoresheet.”
For Canes, it is a place captain Dave Knight readily admits they do not want to be in. Although they are defending champions, it is the West Asia Cup and Premiership he wants to be competing for.
He and his teammates have seen the Premiership fiercely contested this season between Abu Dhabi Harlequins, Jebel Ali Dragons, Dubai Exiles and Bahrain, and he has been looking on with envy.
“Unfortunately, it’s not the trophy we wanted to be in but now we are in it we want to retain it,” said the UAE international.
“It’s a bit of a nonsense trophy considering the league standings are already done but we’ve got to take it for what it is, another game and the chance to put some gloss on an otherwise underwhelming season.”
With games having been close between the sides this term and the fact Eagles will be buoyed by the chance to end a fledgling campaign with silverware, Knight knows Canes should win, but is warning against complacency.
“They’ll throw absolutely everything at us as winning would be a massively successful season for them,” he added.
“Our lads have to not be complacent and match their desire from the off. If we do that I think we’ll be alright and have too much for them to handle. If we don’t then it will be a dog fight for 80 minutes.”
Every season, there are always a few youngsters who burst onto the scene and send the fans’ pulses racing.
By normal standards, however, this season has seen more than its fair share of young players starring for their teams, with All Blacks star Rieko Ioane leading a talented crop of under-21 stars shining on the big stage.
Ioane has progressed into one of the most prodigious talents in the world since making his All Blacks debut 16 months ago.
Possessing pace, skill and power, the Auckland native – with 11 tries in 13 matches – should have won World Player of the Year ahead of Beauden Barrett in November on the back of some virtuous displays in 2017.
Still only 21, there are few weaknesses evident in his game so far, with solid defending and deft footwork at the centre of his excellent skilset.
The towering Ioane is so effective that he has put Julian Savea out of a place in the All Blacks team – a player who has scored 46 tries in 53 matches.
It’s enough to get any rugby fan excited with former All Black Dougie Howlett hailing the lethal winger, saying: “He can move like Christian Cullen, he has the strength of a Jonah [Lomu], and he can pass and play the ball like a Tana Umaga”.
The young South African is yet to be capped by the Springboks but has showed signs during the opening weeks of the Super Rugby season that he is ready for the grand stage.
At just 19, the Stormers out-half proves a constant threat with ball in hand and has flawless goal kicking abilities that can be the tipping point between winning and losing.
He has good speed, nimble foot work and can step would-be defenders at close quarters – all of which can put teams on the back foot.
Out of high school just two years, Willemse looks comfortable at senior level and is contnuing to show maturity to perform in such a central position against quality oppositon at Super Rugby level.
Recent sterling displays against the Highlanders and the Blues could secure him a place in Rassie Erasmus’ squad to face England in June.
Hands down the best hooker in Australia at the moment.
With just two Wallabies caps to his name, the 21-year-old has catapulted himself into being first choice in Michael Cheika’s side within six months of making his Test debut.
The Wallabies may still be going through a transitional period at No2 after the retirement of Stephen Moore and the unavailability of Tatafu Polota-Nau, but with Uelese in sparkling form for the Rebels, he has the chance to lead the nation back among the game’s elite.
Strong in the scrum and accurate in the line-out, the Rebels star has a bright future ahead and could be a key man against Ireland in June.
The 21-year-old was one of the leading lights in Joe Schmidt’s side during the Six Nations, scoring a record seven tries in five matches – and picking up the Six Nations Player of the Tournament.
Stockdale, who only made his Test debut last summer, claimed try doubles in victories over Italy, Wales and Scotland, then added another during the Grand Slam-clinching triumph against England at Twickenham on March 17.
At 6’3, the Lisburn man possesses gas, power, good defence and reliability under the high ball, and can act as an option for full-back.
Although it is still early in his professional career, he is sure to be an inspirational presence for Ulster and Ireland for years to come.
Expect him to light up Ireland’s World Cup campaign in 2019.
When we look back on the pantheon of Welsh rugby greats, Adam Jones is something of an anomaly.
He is not the fleet-of-foot defence splitting legend in the mould of JPR Williams, Gareth Edwards, or Shane Williams, nor is he the archetype hard-man that could be attributed to Scott Gibbs, Ray Gravell or Scott Quinnell.
Adam Jones, is Adam Jones.
A powerful, brute of a man, whose scrummaging strength made him one of the best tight-heads in the world.
Three Grand Slams, 95 caps with Wales, and five caps for the Lions, are testament to his achievements and the fact there is far more behind him than a recognisable haircut and a dry sense of humour.
Make no bones about it, Jones has been one of the world’s best for a decade in arguably the most difficult position on the field. And it could have all been very different.
The mighty oak that dominated many a front row was certainly not the physical specimen we came to know and love.
Once tipping the scales at more than 23-stone, built for international rugby he was not. Even when he did burst onto the scene with Wales he was forced to deal with the humiliation of being substituted after half an hour by then-coach Steve Hansen.
In a career of highs with Wales, this would not be the only time he was treated shoddily by his country however.
Many would have crumpled under such circumstances, instead opting for a reasonable professional career at club level. Not Jones.
He will always play down his involvement in the 2005 Grand Slam triumph for Wales, where he was thrust into the action with very few options at coach Mike Ruddock’s disposal. He was by no means the finished article with signs of his class evident throughout the successful campaign.
2008 brought another Grand Slam, and while those in Wales knew what Jones was about, it was the Lions tour to South Africa in 2009 that really showed his worth to the world. In the first Test, Phil Vickery had been systematically dismantled by The Beast, Tendai Mtawarira – and a change for the second Test was inevitable.
Media build-up in the days preceding the crucial second Test was frenzied around how the Lions could stop the young loose-head. Jones was typically clam, blasé some might say – brushing off the doubters with his typical humour, and a reassuring air of him knowing what he was doing.
Jones put on a clinic. It was a display of a maturing athlete, confident in his own ability and truly establishing himself on the grand stage. But for a cheap-shot clear out from Bakkies Botha, Jones would have had another opportunity to shine, but injury denied him that. His mark had been made though.
What followed was a further cementing of his place amongst the top tightheads in the game. Jones was right up there in the conversation with the likes of Carl Heyman to be considered the best in the world.
The power and stability he brought to the Welsh scrummage – he was the immoveable object, always ready to welcome, and dispatch the next irresistible force.
The fact he didn’t reach 100 Wales caps will leave a sour taste. Unceremoniously pushed aside in 2015, Jones was consigned to the role of stand-by man by Warren Gatland at a time where many thought he still had so much to offer.
Today we see him bringing on Kyle Sinkler at Harlequins – his appetite for coaching seemingly just as big as that of playing. From a Welsh perspective, it can only be hoped that in a couple of years time, Jones will be involved in the backroom staff at international level – he has too much knowledge to pass up on.
While he may not operate with the current coaching setup, widespread changes are expected following the 2019 World Cup and surely then an opportunity could arise.
It would be the coming home of a national treasure.