Kristian Stinson is a busy man. Business owner, new father and now a lawyer in training, so something in life had to give.
After being part of a comeback season with Dubai Exiles in which they won a second double in three years, the Northern Irishman has therefore decided to bring the curtain down on his rugby career – but not before he has one final crack with the UAE.
Exiles prop Stinson is back in the UAE fold for a busy week of fixtures with visiting Gibraltar next week, which ends with a Test match against the tourists on Friday, April 27.
Stinson has lived in the Emirates for 12 years and made his debut for his adopted nation in 2012 in the Cup of Nations. He went on to win three more that year and in the 2013 Asian Five Nations – but this will be his first cap in five years, and potentially his last as he steps away from rugby.
Whether or not he takes a permanent break from the game remains to be seen. Stinson is now excited to be back involved after unfortunately missing out on the last three tours; Malaysia (2015 and 2017) and Uzbekistan in 2016.
Last year wife Emma was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with daughter Ayla, who arrived in June, so he couldn’t play. A year earlier, when the UAE won promotion back to Division I of the Asia Rugby Championship, Stinson was attending his sister’s wedding in Bali. And in 2015, he was injured.
“I think I’ll be the longest-serving player in the squad,” said Stinson, who has represented the UAE against Hong Kong, Belgium, Zimbabwe and Cyprus.
“I’m really excited because I feel like I’ve had rotten luck the last few years or couldn’t commit to it, especially two years ago when they got promoted back to Division I in Uzbekistan. So I want to have one more crack at it.
“I first played in 2012 and then 2013 but last year Ayla was born. The year before it was my sister’s wedding in Bali the week of the tournament and in 2015 I was injured, I tore my MCL [medial collateral ligament in the knee]. I’m back for my swansong this year, so it would be a nice way to end it.”
Even though he’s had a taste, the 32-year-old feels like he didn’t make the most of it in his early days. He’s thrilled to now be part of a hugely talented squad – one that will have a heavy Exiles influence, with team-mates Durandt Gerber, Gio Fourie, Jaen Botes, Matt Mills, Thinus Steyn and Lukas Waddington all selected.
“I’m delighted to be involved as it’s most likely my last year and it’s such a strong squad,” he added.
“My previous involvement was with a much weaker squad and at the time I thought I’d be playing constantly over the next few years and get more caps. I don’t think I really enjoyed it or made the most of it, took it all in, so I’ll definitely be doing that now I’m back here.
“With five years between caps I could have played a lot of rugby and took it for granted.
“I had zero intention of playing this year but I got a phonecall and that was it. I think what changed my mind was the fact it might be the last time. After so long of not being able to play, it was nice to get the call.”
Stinson, a former Dubai Hurricanes player, says he’s not totally decided yet on whether his retirement will be permanent. But he’s decided to go out on top – having clinched the UAE Premiership title with Exiles last week when they beat fierce rivals Abu Dhabi Harlequins 38-12 at Dubai Sports City.
They added that to a first Dubai Sevens title in 11 years, won in December.
“The future all depends on what’s going on with the UAE structure as we don’t really know what’s going on,” added Stinson.
“If I can go out representing the country it’s a good way to go. If I don’t come back and it is the end it’s a really good way to finish off. It’s nice to go out on top. It’d be the best way to end my career.
“It would have been shocking to do it last year (Exiles put up a poor defence of their 2015/16 UAE Premiership and West Asia Championship double).”
Stinson gave up on a law degree to move out to the UAE in 2006, where he has since set up an architecture and design company, Studio EM, with his significant other. But he recently decided to begin re-training. So life is fairly hectic, to put it mildly.
He added: “I feel like I’ve missed out a lot on my daughter this year with rugby and with running a company. I’m exhausted, playing rugby, being a husband and father and studying for a law degree.
“I’ve been doing it all this year and I’m broken. My body’s pretty beaten up.”
But he did add: “I might be dragged out at some point. I’ll take some time off and recharge and we’ll see what happens.”
UAE coach Apollo Perelini’s squad, with Exiles head coach Jacques Benade and Quins counterpart Mike McFarlane as assistants, will train on Saturday for the first time ahead of a run of four games against Gibraltar in five days.
The tourists face Exiles at The Sevens next Monday and Dubai Eagles at Dubai Sports City the following day. They play the UAE Barbarians on Thursday and then an official Test against the UAE on Friday, both games at DSC.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins Under-16s turned the tables on long-time rivals Dubai Exiles on the last day of the season, winning the UAE League final with a thrilling 24-12 victory.
The team from the UAE capital had lost heavily to Exiles in the first match of the season and were 12-7 down at half-time in the showpiece against the holders.
But a second-half rally saw Quins score three unanswered tries, with their forwards combining seamlessly with the backs to produce slick and high-intensity rugby.
“We have had a healthy rivalry with the Exiles at this age group for many years, and they have consistently set high standards, and won most of the trophies,” said Quins captain Johnny Greenwood.
“This year has been full of ups and downs, but we have worked really hard to develop our quality, and on the day, we were buzzing. This win was the best moment we’ve experienced as a very close group of players and coaches.”
After a tense start, the Quins youngsters opened the scoring when Ben Whiting broke through the Exiles defence before a well-timed pass put away fellow centre James Wilson for a sprint to the line. Exiles, boosted by a powerful pack, replied with two tries to edge ahead at the break.
However, Quins came out for the second half with greater coordination, and began putting together some multi-phase passages of play.
A slick interchange of passes along the left touchline led to winger Jonas Greene scoring in the corner, before second row Alex Darling finished off a long period of possession with a try to cap an impressive return from long-term injury.
Exiles continued to tackle hard and pose a threat through their strong runners, yet Quins sealed victory with five minutes to go. The ball was turned over as Exiles attempted to run the ball out of their 22, and after two quick rucks, Quins Number 8 Milo Bly evaded two tacklers to score under the posts.
The team were visibly elated as the final whistle brought a hard-fought match to an end.
“The two sets of players have come to know each other well and there is much respect between them,” said Quins head coach Dominic Whiting.
“Exiles have shown a lot of class on the pitch, and today they have also shown it off the pitch. With many players on both sides moving on to other things next year, this feels like an end of an era for this group. We will all have many great memories.”
Jubilant Quins will now have a break before finishing the season with a tour to Kenya in July, when they will play their sister club, Kenya Harlequins.
Wayne Pivac believes the Scarlets will need to overcome European Rugby’s “form horse” on Saturday when they target a place in the Champions Cup final.
The Welsh region contest a first European semi-final since 2007 by facing Leinster in Dublin.
Leinster, despite being drawn in a group that also featured Exeter, Montpellier and Glasgow, won all six games and collected 27 points from a possible 30 before knocking out European champions Saracens at the quarter-final stage.
And while the Scarlets will travel in confident mood, head coach Pivac knows how big the task lies ahead.
“They (Leinster) are unbeaten in the competition, and to do that home and away against the quality of their pool shows the strength of their squad,” Pivac told reporters in Llanelli on Tuesday.
“It’ll be nice to have the opportunity to go a step further in this competition, and we certainly know it’s going to be a massive task.
“Leinster are the form horse, and we are going to have to have probably our best performance so far as a group.
“It is just going to be one of those games where, from the first whistle to the last, we’ve got to be at our best.
— Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 16, 2018
“Our discipline has got to be right up there. You give them the ball, and you don’t see it for a while. They are very good at looking after possession, they have a strong set-piece and quality players across the field.
“It is a great challenge, and it’s one where we aspire to be, playing against the best sides at this latter stage of the competition.”
The Scarlets – last season’s PRO12 champions – recovered from a poor start in Europe to end their pool fixtures by beating Bath and Toulon, then saw off quarter-final opponents La Rochelle.
All three of the Scarlets’ previous European semi-finals ended in defeat, yet they have shown under Pivac that big games do not faze them.
After knocking out PRO12 semi-final opponents Leinster at Dublin’s RDS last May, they returned to the Irish capital a week later and destroyed Aviva Stadium opponents Munster.
Pivac added: “We can certainly take a lot of confidence out of the fact we went to Ireland two weeks in a row, with one of those games at the Aviva.
“But it was 12 months ago. They are a different side, we are a different side.
“It is something we have worked towards for the last four years. It is very exciting times for the players, the club and the community in general.
“Hopefully, we can put up a very good performance that will reflect the hard work that has gone into getting us in the position we are in.”
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