They’ve spent the last three years pitting their wits against each other on the sidelines as their teams have dominated Gulf rugby – but Jacques Benade and Mike McFarlane insist they’d relish the chance to work alongside each other again for the benefit of the UAE.
Perelini’s stacked squad laboured to a 28-15 win in Dubai on April 27 in what is scheduled to be their only meaningful fixture of 2018 – with the UAE Rugby Federation having taken the decision to withdraw the national team from competing in the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC).
The national team had been given a reprieve after finishing bottom of Division I a year ago, with Asia Rugby deciding against relegating them.
That had whetted the appetite among last year’s squad and a burgeoning group of recently-qualified players ahead of a fresh assault on the continental competition, but secrecy surrounds the reasons for the federation’s decision.
Nevertheless, bringing their expertise to the national set-up was an opportunity welcomed by both Benade and McFarlane, with both admitting they’d jump at the chance to do so again in the future, and possibly on the big stage in a year’s time, should the UAE return to the ARC.
“It was a great experience and I really enjoyed being part of the coaching set up against Gibraltar and I’m very thankful to Apollo for giving me the chance,” said South African Benade, who led Exiles to a Dubai Sevens and UAE Premiership double this season.
“It will be great to work with the top players in the UAE again if we hopefully return very quickly back to the Asia competition.”
McFarlane, who led Quins to the quintuple a year ago and won the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League and UAE Premiership Cup this season, agreed.
“It’s certainly something I’ve enjoyed this time around and having more contact time with the players in a build-up to a larger end goal would be fantastic as I know it’s something that both players and coaches would love to be a part of,” said the Englishman.
And despite the abrupt lack of top level competition this year, both coaches feel it’s an exciting time to be part of international rugby in the UAE.
“It was a brilliant opportunity and great to work with different players with different ideas and experiences. I think the UAE squad is in a positive place and hopefully at the start of an exciting journey,” said McFarlane.
“The talent in the region across the clubs is outstanding and it’s an exciting prospect getting these boys together. When you look at the performance the Barbarians put in and that some of those qualify soon too then it’s a very exciting time to be part of UAE rugby.”
Benade weighed in: “There are really top quality players to pick from and to be able to work with Apollo with these players will be great.
“There will also be five or six extra players available next year. It will be great for UAE rugby to have competition in places and to make it very difficult for Apollo to pick the squad.
“The level of the game is picking up every year and with that we see in the younger players returning back to their adopted country and wanting to play in the West Asia and UAE Premiership competition and to qualify to play for UAE.
“It’s a shame that we couldn’t get a few extra sessions in before the game but there were times against Gibraltar that you could see what these players are capable of doing and will happen if they can train and play together as a squad.
“With extra training camps maybe throughout the season and focusing on what the UAE want to achieve, especially now with rugby part as the PE curriculum in Emirati schools I do think there is a bright future for rugby in the UAE and to be able to be involved with that will be great.”
UAE national team coach Apollo Perelini led the tributes to Young, believed to be in his forties, who died on Sunday following a head injury suffered while playing for RAK’s vets side at the famous Sharjah 10s tournament on Friday.
Young, who had reportedly only played a handful of games for the Ras Al Khaimah-based side, had to be resuscitated on the pitch at Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club following the incident, before being transferred to a local hospital, with his tragic passing announced by the club on Sunday evening.
Messages of condolence have poured out on social media from clubs around the UAE and beyond, with many sending emails and contacting the club directly in the aftermath of the tragedy – with Abu Dhabi Harlequins even merging the RAK logo with theirs on their own Facebook page in a show of solidarity.
Even though many did not know Young, the bond rugby forges among everyone involved in the sport – despite most being thousands of miles away from their homes in the UAE’s huge expatriate community – has been evident in the days following Young’s death.
“Everyone at Quins sends their condolences to his family, RAK and the rugby family,” said Quins head coach Mike McFarlane.
“It’s such a sad loss when all he was doing was playing the sport we love. I think the reaction on social media, including the logo on our Facebook which combines the Quins and RAK symbols, shows how close the rugby family is here in the UAE and how everyone is ready to help each other wherever they can.”
Dubai Exiles captain Durandt Gerber has also been touched by the reaction within UAE rugby circles.
“I did not know him but it’s very sad news. It shows us that contact sport is still a dangerous thing but I am pretty sure, with Nick still playing at his age, he loved the game and he went out doing what he loved,” said the South African former Italy ‘A’ fly-half.
“I always tell people ‘give it your all each game you play’ as you never know when it will be your last, whether it be because of injury or something else.
“This shows us again how the rugby community has come together to support the family and send condolences. There have been so many messages on various groups with people pouring their hearts out and asking how they can help in any way.”
Global rugby chiefs have taken huge strides in recent years to make the game safer.
In England, an eight-point plan was announced in March after their annual injury audit found a rise in the number and severity of injuries in the English professional game – with concussion the most reported match injury for a sixth straight season last year.
On behalf of the Asia Rugby family and all member unions we would like to offer our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Nick Young and to all at @RAKRugby, @SharjahRugby and @uaerugby at this sad time pic.twitter.com/jwOR1H7ZBa— Asia Rugby (@asiarugby) 30 April 2018
But by its very definition rugby is a contact sport, and one of the most ferocious ones at that.
Former dual code international Perelini added: “I didn’t know Nick, however I am saddened by his passing and my condolences to his family.
“It is very sad to hear of someone passing through playing our game. Especially through the collision part of rugby, which we have tried hard to clean up to make it safer for everyone involved.”
The tragedy has put everything that has happened on the pitch for RAK this season, one of their most successful, into shocking perspective.
RAK Rugby celebrate winning the plate at the Barrelhouse 10s tournament last month.
Rugby was played in Ras Al Khaimah as long ago as 1969 but in the 36 years between the club being created in 1982 and today, the team had flitted in and out of sight.
The club resurfaced most recently in 2013, having had no official involvement in the Emirate for seven years.
But a lot of hard work from outgoing chairman Mike Silvester and new man Simon Williams led to a season of stability in 2016/17, RAK finishing fourth in the UAE’s third-tier Community League, recording five wins in eight games and just missing out on a final.
Things edged ahead again in 2017/18, a consecutive fourth-place finish earned, this time with six wins from nine games seeing the club finishing just seven and eight points adrift respectively of Quins 3rds and Jebel Ali Dragons 3rds who reached the league final.
Two seasons ago, Dragons’ Mike Hayel remembers shoveling 60 points on RAK on their famous, now former, sand pitch.
This year, the team, who have made the final in each of the first three seasons of the Community League, were given a much sterner test as they won 46-26 to inflict one of only three defeats on RAK.
“It’s so sad. It’s a tragedy, not only for Gulf rugby, but rugby in general. It’s a really sad situation,” Dragons’ Welsh skipper said of Young’s death.
“We played RAK a few seasons ago on their sand pitch and put 60 points on them. From that to this season they were in contention right up until the end, so what they’ve done as a club is amazing.
“I think I probably played against Nick. It was a tough game this year, they came down to us. As a club they’re fantastic and have come on massively, even since last season. The difference is phenomenal.”
Scarlets have announced the signings of Scotland international Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and his fellow scrum-half Kieran Hardy in a double swoop.
The duo will help provide options at number nine, with Scarlets’ first-choice Gareth Davies a Wales regular and his understudy Aled Davies moving to the Ospreys this summer.
Hidalgo-Clyne, 24, joins from Edinburgh, while the 22-year-old Hardy – who came up through the youth ranks at Scarlets and made his professional debut for the region in 2014 – has been plying his trade for English Championship side Jersey.
Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac said: “We’re delighted to be in a position to welcome both Kieran and Sam to the Scarlets.
“Kieran makes a return to his home region having had a couple of seasons to continue his development in the Championship, with Sam bringing with him a wealth of Guinness PRO14 and international experience from Edinburgh.
“With Aled moving on and Gareth away during the international window it’s important to have strength in depth in each position.”