Mike McFarlane claims this could be his final season as head coach of Abu Dhabi Harlequins after signing a fresh one-year deal to remain in charge of the Zayed Sports City outfit for the 2018/19 campaign.
The Englishman has been here before apparently – revealing that he told himself two years ago that he was calling it quits. Then, he led Quins to an unprecedented sweep of all major trophies in 2016/17.
Even after that he considered once again calling it a day. After all, where else is there to go after you’ve won absolutely everything?
He was once again persuaded to stay on. And after retaining only their Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League title from a memorable 2016/17 campaign last term, as well as adding the inaugural UAE Premiership Cup, McFarlane revealed he gave the future serious thought following season’s end.
“The boys are incredibly persuasive,” he joked, after he and the club stated he will be at the helm for a fourth campaign next season.
So, will year number four actually be the final one?
He replied: “Who knows. Two years ago was the final year. Last year was. But there comes a time when I need to prioritise family and it’s a huge ask on top of a busy, challenging job. It’s an exciting position to be in and an ongoing learning journey with a great group of boys.”
So, essentially, it could be his last year. He’s said that before, but he will assess the situation again in 12 months’ time.
He said: “The contract will be for one year. I wasn’t going to continue after this season. Whatever happens, it has to be right for me and the club in order to keep the club moving forward.”
And right for the family of course, with McFarlane juggling his coaching responsibilities with a demanding job as a PE teacher at the British School Al Khubairat, as well as a wife and young daughter at home.
McFarlane took over at Quins from former Munster full-back Jeremy Manning in the summer of 2015. After the New Zealander had led Quins to the UAE Premiership title in 2014/15, McFarlane ushered in a three-year period of dominance in which standards at the club were meticulously raised, as well as trophies.
Ten in total. Out of 19 available over the last four years. That included 2016/17’s marvelous quintuple, as well as three-straight Dubai Sevens titles from 2015-17.
McFarlane’s decision to stick rather than twist has been welcomed by Quins chairman Andy Cole.
“I am delighted to announce that Mike McFarlane will continue as head coach of Abu Dhabi Harlequins for the coming season,” said Cole.
“Mike’s work ethic, organisational and leadership skills are at the highest level. Mike and his family go above and beyond the role of head coach and we are very lucky to have them as part of the club.”
Pre-season for Quins begins on June 24 and now that he’s committed his immediate future to the club, McFarlane will be doing everything he can to bring success back to the capital next year after Jebel Ali Dragons, Dubai Exiles and Bahrain pinched the four biggest accolades (West Asia Premiership, UAE Premiership, Dubai Sevens and West Asia Cup) away from Abu Dhabi. Especially if it proves to be his last in charge.
“With the foundations embedded, the professional setup and the close knit culture I have seen grow and develop over my tenure at Quins, I am pleased to be continuing as head coach for this coming season,” McFarlane added.
“As ever, I will demand the highest expectations of the players but in return know that it will be a fulfilling rugby experience being part of the club both for them as players and their families.
“I know the committee and the club are working tirelessly to ensure we are ready for another great season from logistics to acquiring sponsors.”
Amendments to the rules governing player transfers between rugby clubs in the UAE have been met with a mixed reaction by clubs.
The UAE Rugby Federation altered the rules following recommendations based on end-of-season meetings held with clubs at the end of the 2017/18 campaign, which took place on April 21.
The UAE RF introduced the Rugby Player Transfer Window two years ago, giving players two opportunities per season to switch clubs – between August 1 and 15 and December 20 to January 5.
Prior to that, players were only allowed to transfer between clubs once the season had ended.
The amendments to the laws state has seen the summer transfer window lengthened to run from between June 1 to July 31, while the winter window remains the same.
“We welcome the transfer window, this allows clubs to recruit players in a fair and transparent manner,” said Richard Croft, vice chairman at Sarries.
“Additionally it allows players to consider their own rugby goals, moving, where needed, to clubs that allow them to realise their full potential.”
Exiles chairman Mike Wolff added: “I’m all in favor. It gives senior players the chance to explore alternatives but gives coaches the assurances they seek to know who they have got to work with before the real graft in August kicks off.
“Otherwise a player can do pre-season with a club (which costs clubs money), learn some critical intelligence regarding how a club is seeking to play, and then he leaves for somewhere else for whatever reason. That’s not fair or right.”
But even though there are benefits, Dubai Eagles fly-half and director of rugby Sean Carey feels it doesn’t necessarily work well for players, especially the large community of teachers in the Emirates.
“I can understand why it was introduced, it has its benefits for the clubs, who can organise pre-season and know who is committed for the season ahead,” said the Irishman.
“It doesn’t help the players, who could end up being second or third choice and not be able to move before the season starts.
“It also doesn’t help teachers or those who come back to the UAE at the end of August; they have to make their mind up before seeing any coaching set-up or competition.”
Those players wishing to transfer must supply a letter of no objection from their current club, fill in a Player Transfer Application Form and address it to the UAE RF Secretary General, Qais Al Dhalai, to be able to begin their transfer request.
The UAE RF regulations will be amended accordingly and any transfer requests outside of these windows will not be considered.
Mike Brown will feed off Owen Farrell’s aggression at Ellis Park after insisting that his captain’s deeds rather than words will inspire England against South Africa.
Farrell is skipper for the three-Test series against the Springboks which opens in Johannesburg on Saturday knowing that the post could be available for the 2019 World Cup given Dylan Hartley’s ongoing concussion problems.
The Saracens playmaker has long been viewed as Hartley’s natural successor and Brown appreciates a “special” team-mate who is carved out of his own confrontational image.
“Owen is a great leader. He energises the group through the way he trains and the way he drags people along with him, his physicality and his standards,” Brown said.
“I’ve played alongside him for a number of years now, so I’ve known him a long time and I’ve seen how he has progressed as a person and as a player.
“I love his aggression and his physicality. I can feed off someone like that. He never takes a backward step and always leads from the front. That’s the sign of a great leader.
“If I see my captain standing on the front line and leading from the front in terms of their physicality, energy and their standards, that is enough for me.
“But obviously he will be doing a lot of the talking as well.”
Brown played under Farrell’s father Andy when the former Great Britain Rugby league skipper was England’s defence coach from 2012 to 2015.
“I think we’ve all been super impressed with how Owen’s adapted to the captaincy.”@mikebrown_15 backs @owen_faz to lead England for the tour of South Africa: https://t.co/HxcGYeBq0E pic.twitter.com/OHPsGo5i2k— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) June 6, 2018
“Owen is special in terms of the way he talks. He’s exactly like his dad in the way he talks. He sounds the same,” Brown said.
“That’s what makes his dad a great coach as well – he energises and motivates people.
“He gets the best out of people and Owen brings that on to the field in all parts of the game.
“A couple of years ago I’d never seen someone at his age being the way he is. He is special.”
Hartley faces an uncertain international future after being forced to take an extended break from the game due to the most recent in a string of concussions sustained against Ireland in May.
“Owen has just carried on what Dylan did off the field. He’s carried those standards on, which has been so important in where we have got to,” Brown said.
“Owen has carried that on, but brought his own style to it. They are both great leaders in my eyes. It’s great to play under both of them.”
Eddie Jones names his team for the first Test at lunchtime on Thursday with the fitness of lock Joe Launchbury the biggest area of doubt.
The Wasps captain could miss the series opener with a calf injury sustained in training last week, placing Nick Isiekwe and Jonny Hill on standby in case he fails to come through a fitness test.