They may have only just completed their debut season as a fully-fledged club, but Dubai Eagles are already dreaming of creating a legacy for future generations, having just returned from a charity trip to Sri Lanka.
As most teams and players were settling down to enjoy some much-needed rest and relaxation after a punishing campaign, a group of Eagles players were taking flight to donate kit and equipment to a school on the west coast of the island, off the south coast of India.
A group of 10 players went altogether for the three-day trip, where they visited pupils at Mahanama College in Panadura, 27km south of the capital Colombo.
Eagles’ Irish fly-half and director of rugby, Sean Carey, said it was a brilliant experience.
“We got in touch with the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union and we asked them to put us in touch with a team close to the UAE, in the south west, somewhere that was affected by the tsunami,” said Carey.
More than 30,000 Sri Lankans were killed on Boxing Day in 2004 when, as a result of an Indian Ocean earthquake, the island was hit by a devastating tsunami, with around 1.5 million more people displaced from their homes.
“They put us in touch with Mahanama College College in Panadura. We landed in the airport and they had a bus waiting for us. We went straight to the school and they were having an assembly. We planned a day of coaching and just talked to the kids.
“We had the first season for the Eagles and we had some kit that was left over. We bought more than we should have so there was quite a lot of stuff.
“We had a lot hanging around downstairs in the store rooms too, around 70 jerseys, 25 balls and other rugby equipment.
“We met with the principal, they even fed us. It was a pretty cool experience. We’d hope to go back there maybe once a year. It’s a big thing of what we want to do as a club.”
Although they mixed business with pleasure, spending their final two days at the beach, the 3,348km trip is something Eagles are determined to follow up on.
The club plans to head back to Mahanama College next season as well as visiting more schools in other Asian countries.
Carey – who formed part of the Ireland squad that played at the Under-19 World Championship when it was staged in Dubai and Sharjah in 2006 – represented the UAE at the Asia Rugby Championship in Malaysia last year.
Twelve years ago the 30-year-old was part of an Irish side containing future British & Irish Lions Cian Healy and Keith Earls that finished fifth in the UAE. And having enjoyed a fairly high-profile career, Carey said he was inspired to give something back after being part of the Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors side that toured Madagascar in 2016.
“I’d done the Mike Ballard thing before, the Conquistadors, so that was in the back of my head when we started Eagles last summer, that we’d do something along those lines, like a tour, and link up with some people in need of help, kit and rugby equipment,” said Carey of the organisation set up by former Abu Dhabi Harlequins player Ballard.
“I wanted to take what Mike has done and do a bit more of it. Me and Conor (Coakley, Eagles captain) had been in Madagascar and got the idea from Mike.
“There’s loads of rugby-mad areas in Asia that need equipment and we wanted to do more in other countries. It’s something we’d like to have as part of our legacy.
“We have other destinations and we’d like to do something like this twice a year. But we want to build something and go to those places again rather than just drop stuff and leave.
“It’s a big part of what we want to do at Eagles. Because we are so lucky here, and have so much in Dubai, so we want to give something back.”
Toulon’s English international winger Chris Ashton set a Top 14 record on Saturday when he scored his 22nd try of the season as the three-time European champions stunned leaders Montpellier 32-17.
The 31-year-old Ashton touched down in the seventh minute in Marseille after a pass from former All Black centre Ma’a Nonu, completing a move started by Facundo Isa and Semi Radradra.
For the last three weeks, Ashton, who left Saracens for France last summer, had been tied with Fijian Napolioni Nalaga, who scored 21 tries for Clermont in 2008-2009.
Toulon scored all of their four tries in the first half with Radrada, skipper Mathieu Bastareaud and Isa adding to Ashton’s opener.
Montpellier would have wrapped up a semi-final place with victory but Vern Cotter’s side had to settle for a second half rally with Gabriel Ngandebe and Kelian Galletier adding to centre Vincent Martin’s 34th minute score.
Toulon, coached by former Montpellier boss Fabien Galthie, stayed comfortably on course for the play-offs with just two matches left in the regular season.
Victory came at a cost, however, with influential fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc forced off after just 11 minutes with a shoulder injury after being crunched by Montpellier prop Davit Kubriashvili who earned a yellow card for his troubles.
French international skipper Guilhem Guirado was then forced off after just 20 minutes with knee ligament damage.
Exiles won 38-12 as Quins’ hold on the last one of their four major trophies from a brilliant 2016/17 campaign was finally loosened at Dubai Sports City on Friday night.
Quins were shut down, suffocated by Exiles’ gargantuan pack, but also prevented or unable to play their usual free-flowing brand, with indiscipline and errors punctuating their game throughout the 80 minutes.
“We didn’t really get the chance to play any rugby. The boys are frustrated and that built and the indiscipline came as a result,” said McFarlane.
“I’d never take it away from any team in a final though. Whoever wins, wins and hats off to Exiles and everything they’ve achieved this year. Jacques (Benade, head coach) has done a good job there and some of their boys had really good games yesterday.”
Sport is cyclical. Dominance doesn’t last forever. For the spirit of the game of rugby and its future in the UAE, it’s a good thing that Quins’ rivals have finally been able to escape from the grip they had on the domestic landscape last season.
There were fine margins in Quins relinquishing their chokehold, even in a transitional year when last season’s supreme squad was absolutely decimated by injuries, departures and the forced retirement of club legend Ben Bolger.
They lost the West Asia Premiership by a point after Jebel Ali Dragons pulled off a heroic bonus point victory in Bahrain on the last day of the season. They were beaten by Bahrain and Dragons in the West Asia Cup and Dubai Sevens semi-finals respectively.
In the last two seasons these two competitions were the only occasions Quins weren’t either champions or runners-up – having won six of 10 titles in the past 24 months; seven of 11 if you include this season’s inaugural UAE Premiership Cup.
In the last four seasons, Quins have won an amazing 10 of 18 trophies on offer in Gulf rugby. That includes their quintuple of West Asia Premiership and Cup, UAE Premiership, Dubai Sevens and Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League a year ago.
They won the Gulf Men’s League trophy at the Sevens three years in a row from 2014-16 as well as the UAE Premiership in 2014/15 and this season retained their Champions League crown in pre-season as well as winning the Premiership Cup.
To put that feat in context, the club with the second most trophies is Exiles, with four trophies. They added the UAE Premiership title to their Sevens triumph in December – a maiden triumph in 11 years. They won the UAE and West Asia Premiership double in Benade’s first season in 2015/16.
Bahrain (West Asia Cup), Jebel Ali Dragons (West Asia Premiership), Abu Dhabi Saracens (West Asia Championship/Gulf Top 6 2014/15) and Doha (Champions League 2015/16) have one title apiece.
It’s some record, and one McFarlane wants his players to be proud of.
“Teams have closed the gap but we’ve still been competitive and won titles this season,” said McFarlane.
“The boys are all competitive and have high standards. Some of the trophies slipped away and that was tough to take. The West Asia Premiership we lost by a point and with Bahrain losing at home to Dragons, a result we never saw coming.
“We look back and that was our fault when we lost at home to Dragons, we spilled points there. That’s where that went. At the Sevens it was a good strong semi-final against Dragons, not much we could have done.
“There were fine margins in all the competitions. I think we were runners-up in all of them. In the last two years we’ve won six and been runners-up twice in the last 10 finals, so the Sevens and the West Asia Cup were the only finals we haven’t been in.
“That’s a cracking record and something we can be really proud of. And it feeds the rivalry between us and Exiles. It’s a good one and everyone’s enjoyed it, inside and outside the clubs, and now we have Bahrain and Dragons coming into it too.”