Rugby legend Mike Phillips hopes to unearth new talent at Dubai Sports World

Nick Watkins 22/05/2018
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Big ambition: Mike Phillips' rugby academy

The 6ft 3in figure standing among a group of 11-year-olds isn’t exactly hard to spot as he demonstrates how to properly run with a rugby ball.

Clutching the ball under their arms, the children run from one side of the pitch to the other as part of the training at the revamped Dubai Sports World – under the watch of a Wales and Lions legend.

Swapping the Valleys for the sandpit is Mike Phillips, who has set up a coaching academy in Dubai to find the next generation of rugby stars, in a place that he thinks goes under the radar for talent.

“There’s a lot of talent in Dubai, which sometimes goes unnoticed,” says Phillips, speaking exclusively to Sport360. “I’ve had a lot of parents come up to me and ask for their kids to be pushed through. Dads send me videos of their little ones and there is some real talent here, it’s really an untapped resource.

“We want to be able to give kids the opportunity to play professional rugby and that getting some of them a professional contract would be the glamorous thing for us to do. Some of the kids weren’t even aware of the sport a few months ago so it’s just as rewarding to see them learning new skills, while getting fit and healthy too.”

The former scrum-half has joined forces with ‘Just Play’, a sports activity provider, to introduce kids to rugby and give them the chance to learn from an ex-pro for the first time.

“By using my 15 years’ experience playing rugby at the highest level I saw a chance to build an academy and bring the sport to Dubai. I’m trying to add my value in any way I can as it’s a growing sport. A lot of kids here have never heard of rugby so it’s good to get them involved in the game.”

The 35-year-old, who moved to Dubai with his wife last August, is very settled here and is already making the most of the new facilities provided at the Dubai Sports World venue.

Rugby is just one of sports on offer at the summer venue, which also includes three football pitches, eight basketball courts, badminton courts, a running track, a gym and a Ninja Warrior course, to name but a few.
Located at the Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai Sports World features 14 sports and 10 professional academies and runs for 16 weeks until September 8.

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Paul Gustard named new Harlequins head coach

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Harlequins have confirmed the appointment of England defence coach Paul Gustard as their new head of Rugby.

Gustard, 42, will take up his new post with the Aviva Premiership club after England’s tour to South Africa next month.

He replaces John Kingston, who revealed in April that he would be leaving Quins at the end of the season.

“Harlequins is delighted to announce that England defence coach Paul Gustard will join the London club as head of Rugby, following the conclusion of England’s summer tour to South Africa,” Hartlequins said in a statement.

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PRO14 report card: Leinster and Scarlets top of the class as Southern Kings fail

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Leinster will have a domestic and European double in their sights when they take on Scarlets in the PRO14 final on Saturday.

Ahead of the game, we grade the performances of all 14 teams in the competition this season.

BENETTON

2017/18 record: Won 11, Lost 10

A stunning season for the Italian side with 11 victories, after winning just three, three and five in their previous three campaigns. Kieran Crowley’s team will have earned respect from their rivals due to their improvements in skillset, game plan and ability to play a more attractive brand of rugby. An exciting side with a lot of promise.

Grade: B+

CARDIFF BLUES
2017/18 record: Won 11, Lost 10

A fairly balanced season for the Blues, finishing fourth in their conference and securing a spot in the Champions Cup next season. Their 11 wins is the same as their two previous campaigns with triumphs over Munster, Southern Kings and Ulster among their key results. The stand-out achievement of the season will be their stunning Challenge Cup success earlier this month – only the second time a Welsh side has won the competition.

Grade: C

CHEETAHS
2017/18 record: Won 12, Lost 9

Have been a breath of fresh air in their maiden season in the Northern Hemisphere, with notable scalps over Leinster and Scarlets earning them a third place finish in their conference. If the Bloemfontein side can continue to build momentum and tighten their defence in the off-season, then expect them to develop upon their 2017/18 success.

Grade: B

CONNACHT
2017/18 record: Won 7, Lost 14

Their season may have ended with a 47-10 thumping of Leinster, but overall it was a poor campaign for the 2016 champions finishing second last in their conference. The Galway side have regressed from the heights scaled when Pat Lam was in charge in 2016 – winning just seven games. And with the club parting company with Kieran Keane after just one season of his three year-contract, a new coaching ticket awaits to lead their revival.

Grade: D

DRAGONS
2017/18 record: Won 2, Draw 2, Lost 17

Bernard Jackman’s first season as head coach has been an utter disaster with just two wins – the second lowest out of the 14 teams. With 19 players set to depart Rodney Parade this summer, the former Grenoble boss has a mammoth task on his hands to implement new tactics and shift the attitude and culture at a fading club.

Grade: E

EDINBURGH
2017/18 record: Won 15, Lost 6

Richard Cockerill’s side have certainly exceeded expectations with 15 wins and a third place finish in their conference behind Leinster and Scarlets. Victories over the two PRO14 finalists and Munster will surely have added some bite and drive into a burgeoning side who lost 16 matches last campaign.

Grade: B

GLASGOW WARRIORS
2017/18 record: Won 15, Draw 1, Lost 5

The Scottish club continue to go from strength to strength with six semi-final appearances in the last seven seasons. With a 75 per cent win ratio this campaign, the Ryan Wilson-led outfit showed dominance and ruthlessness to finish top of their conference before crashing to a 28-12 defeat against defending champions Scarlets in the last four. Boast the best defesive record in the competition.

Grade: B+

LEINSTER
2017/18 record: Won 14, Draw 1, Lost 6

The European champions showed plenty of quality and are now on the brink of sealing a third domestic title in six years. To underline their squad depth in this competition, Leo Cullen used 55 players during the 21 regular season matches. Back-to-back defeats to Benetton and Connacht prevent them achieving full marks.

Grade: A

MUNSTER
2017/18 record: Won 13, Draw 1, Lost 7

A tight semi-final defeat to Leinster cannot be underestimated and for large parts of the season, Johann van Graan’s side played an attractive and efficient brand of rugby. A mix of youth and experience served them well, with seasoned campaigners Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander stepping up superbly over the course of the campaign. Scored the third most tries and have the second best defensive record in the league.

Grade: B

OSPREYS
2017/18 record: Won 9, Lost 12

Widely tipped as one of the teams to challenge for the title, the Swansea outfit exceeded expectations and finished third bottom in their conference. Their nine wins was the lowest since the 2007/08 season – and just the third time in eight campaigns that they have failed to qualify for the penultimate stages of the competition. The mid-season sacking of Steve Tandy would have done little to add to their confidence and productivity on and off the field, but the signing of Wales superstar George North was a serious acquisition.

Grade: D

SCARLETS
2017/18 record: Won 14, Draw 1, Lost 6

The defending champions are similar to Leinster in the way they have not only won 14 games and qualified for the final but they have also used 55 players. Wayne Pivac’s loose and open game plan is exciting to watch with the tight five forwards throwing the ball around and playing with a bit of freedom. The loss of star man Tadhg Beirne to Munster will be a significant blow for next season.

Grade: A

SOUTHERN KINGS
2017/18 record: Won 1, Lost 20

Hard to draw many positives for the Port Elizabeth-based side in their debut season. A sole win over Dragons will represent a glimmer of postivity, but overall, they were a team lacking any creativity and consistency with ball in hand. Defensively, the gaps grew as the season progressed and they shipped a woeful 829 points.

Grade: F

ULSTER
2017/18 record: Won 12, Draw 2, Lost 7

The Ulstermen struggled for large parts of the campaign but finished on a high note to secure Champions Cup rugby for next season. With the retirement of key men, incoming coach Dan McFarland will have plenty of work to do to inspire a side lacking in belief and needing a more intelligent game plan.

Grade: C

ZEBRE
2017/18 record: Won 7, Lost 14

Although they lost 14 matches, Zebre’s seven wins represent their greatest campaign so far following three, five and three wins since the 2014/15 PRO12 season. They also scored 50 tries – 12 more than they managed last term. With signs of progress beginning to show, Italian club rugby is certainly in its most promising place yet.

Grade: B

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