The new Gulf rugby season begins in earnest this weekend with the return of the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League.
The competition, which has become the traditional curtain-raiser to the rugby season in the UAE and Gulf as a whole, kicks off in Sri Lanka as Kandy host West Asia Cup winners Bahrain on Friday.
It means that the same three teams as last year are taking part, with Mike McFarlane’s Quins looking to defend their crown and lift it for the third season in a row.
This year, all three teams will play once at home, after Bahrain travelled to both Kandy and Abu Dhabi last year to ensure the competition went ahead.
Kandy welcome Louie Tonkin’s Bahrain – who hoisted the West Asia Cup in 2017/18 – on Friday, with Kandy heading to the UAE capital to play Quins at Zayed Sports City next Friday, September 7. The tournament concludes the following Friday, September 14, when Quins travel to Bahrain.
The competition for trophies looks to be wide open in 2018/19 after the major honours were shared between four teams last term – breaking Quins’ utter dominance of the rugby landscape in the Gulf in 2016/17.
Dragons claimed the main Premiership title, while Bahrain won the Cup. Dubai Exiles claimed the Dubai Sevens crown, while the UAE Premiership was also theirs.
Dubai Hurricanes won the West Asia Trophy and Quins lifted the inaugural UAE Premiership Cup and kept the Champions League title.
The 35-year-old sustained a serious anterior cruciate ligament injury during the pre-season defeat in Connacht and is expected to be sidelined for up to nine months.
“Jimmy Gopperth has undergone an ACL reconstruction following an injury sustained in Connacht. Estimated absence – six to nine months,” said Wasps in an injury update.
New Zealand-born Gopperth’s setback has left Wasps short of fly-halves as Danny Cipriani moved on to Gloucester earlier this summer.
Former All Blacks and Highlanders fly-half Lima Sopoaga has joined the London club for the 2018/19 season, but does not arrive until next week.
He has scored 1,290 points in six Premiership seasons with Newcastle and Wasps...— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) August 27, 2018
But Jimmy Gopperth now faces up to nine months out after ACL surgery.
Wishing you a speedy recovery, Jimmy! pic.twitter.com/CFt5jEdIqp
Billy Searle, 22, who arrived from Bristol in May, started in the number 10 role in Saturday’s friendly win against Ulster.
Wasps director of Rugby David Young confirmed the club will also be without prop Jake Cooper-Woolley and hooker TJ Harris for up to two months after their respective bicep muscle injuries required surgery.
Wasps launch their Premiership campaign at Worcester on Saturday.
Scrum-half Care has tipped new boss Gustard to reinvigorate Quins and help him push back towards further Test honours with England.
Harlequins slumped to a 10th-place Premiership finish last term, with Rugby director John Kingston paying the price by losing his job.
Care was rested for England’s summer tour to South Africa, so is now itching to revitalise proceedings with both club and country.
And the 31-year-old thinks Gustard is the perfect man to help him do just that, comparing Quins’ new head of Rugby to likeable Liverpool manager Klopp.
“From day one since I met Gussie (Gustard), I’ve loved working with him,” said Care of Gustard.
“He reminds me of a Klopp-type manager, a guy that makes you work incredibly hard but is also the guy to put his arm around you if you need, and he’s a mate as well.
“He’s going to be on us this year to drive standards, especially us older boys to help out with that.
“If you get to know him, you know all he wants to do is win. He hates losing, and we’re quite similar in that respect.
“He’s got a tough edge that I love about him, but he’ll put his arm around you if you need it.
“Last year definitely hurt, it’s my 13th year at the club, I love the club, and to be down where we were, losing games the way we were, it’s something I’d never really experienced to that point.
“We were embarrassed about, and it was hard. But the club has made the decision this year to bring in new faces and take the club in a new direction.
“I do feel it was needed, we needed some new voices. Not taking anything away from the coaches that had been here before, they had all done brilliant things for the club.
“But I feel the club is going in the right direction now, the right people are pushing that forward. And as players we have to take a lot of responsibility, and we owe the club some good performances this year.”
Initially Care admitted he did not want a summer’s rest when England boss Eddie Jones told him he would not be touring South Africa.
Now Care has realised the benefits of that break – but also concedes he must start from scratch in pushing back towards England’s number nine shirt.
“When I met with Eddie (Jones) and he said he thought the best thing for me was a rest and a summer off, at the time I probably couldn’t see the bigger picture,” said Care.
“I’m desperate to play for England, so you don’t want to miss a game and you definitely don’t want to miss a tour to South Africa.
“Looking back now, he knows what he’s talking about I think. I definitely feel physically and mentally in the best shape I’ve been in at the start of a season.
“I’ve always said, if you’re playing well then you deserve your shot. So for me nothing’s changed in my mind this year, I’ll need to play well for my club to deserve the chance to wear the shirt again.
“And hopefully I can do that as I’m desperate to get back in.”