Scotland and Saracens centre Duncan Taylor to miss season through injury

Duncan Bech 13/09/2018
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Scotland centre Duncan Taylor is a doubt for the World Cup after undergoing extensive knee surgery that has ruled him out of the remainder of the season.

Taylor ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and posterior cruciate ligament during a second string game for Saracens against Exeter Braves on September 3.

The 29-year-old had surgery on Tuesday and is not expected to be back until June.

If accurate, that estimate for his return would offer little opportunity to prove his fitness in time for Scotland’s Japan 2019 opener against Ireland on September 22.

It is the latest setback for the Scot who was blighted by serious concussion symptoms last season and has also undergone two ankle surgeries and been struck by shoulder and hamstring problems.

“Duncan is out for the season and won’t be back until June,” said Saracens director of Rugby Mark McCall, who in May awarded Taylor a new contract until 2021.

“It’s a huge blow. He’s obviously had a poor year injury-wise. With the head injury he was never sure when he was coming back or when he was going to feel good.

“It’s cruel for one of the most popular players in the squad. It’s just one of those things. We just need to support him as best as we can. I’m optimistic he’ll be back for the World Cup.

“All things going equal he’ll be back in June which gives him time. I’m sure he’ll be in contention.”

Saracens have received more encouraging news from George Kruis, who will make his comeback from ankle surgery against Northampton Saturday.

Kruis was operated on to correct an ongoing issue after Saracens had won the Gallagher Premiership title last season, ruling him out of England’s June tour to South Africa.

Flanker Callum Clark could be involved in the trip to Franklin’s Gardens after recovering from a broken arm, although he is likely to be given one more second string fixture to prove his fitness.

Billy Vunipola’s return from his own fractured arm against Bristol last Saturday was a success and the England number eight will face Saints, potentially as a replacement once again.

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A 'ding dong' battle expected between Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Bahrain

Matt Jones 12/09/2018
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Quins celebrate their quintuple in 2016/17.

Mike McFarlane expects a “ding dong” battle between two of the four heavyweight sides in Gulf rugby as Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Bahrain clash for the right to claim the first trophy of the new season.

McFarlane takes his Quins side to Bahrain on Friday with the winner set to lift the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League title – the UAE side are looking to make it a three-peat having lifted the title the last two years.

For home side Bahrain, they will look to add the title to their West Asia Cup triumph from a fine 2017/18 season – a trophy which brought them their first piece of silverware in eight years.

Both sides have beaten Sri Lankan champions Kandy in the first two games of a tournament that has become the traditional curtain-raiser to the Gulf rugby season in recent years – won for the first time by Doha in 2015 and by Quins in 2016 and 2017.

Louie Tonkin’s side won 31-20 in Sri Lanka two weeks ago before Quins – with rumours persisting they could struggle in 2018/19 – ran riot in Abu Dhabi last weekend, crushing Kandy 57-7.

McFarlane and his side will be buoyed by that, but will still head west as slight underdogs for Friday’s showdown.

Bahrain beat Dubai Exiles to lift last season's West Asia Cup. (Photo credit: www.jodiebakerphotography.com).

Bahrain beat Dubai Exiles to lift last season’s West Asia Cup. (Photo credit: www.jodiebakerphotography.com).

“I was delighted with the performance last week given the overhaul in playing structure and systems for the season ahead,” said McFarlane, who signed a year’s contract extension earlier this summer to remain in charge of Quins for another 12 months – his future beyond that is unknown.

“This weekend is a huge step up against an excellent, well coached squad who have been together a few years now and are building on great foundations.

“This early in the season I expect it to be a ding dong battle as ever and a great opportunity to get more minutes under our belts in preparation for the league opener next week.

“We have a few injuries and availabilities unfortunately from last weekend, however, we’ve got a squad who have bought into the values, ethos and culture of the club and looking forward to performing.”

After rampaging to the quintuple in 2016/17, Quins were well matched last term – with Jebel Ali Dragons lifting the coveted West Asia Premiership title.

Dubai Exiles also returned to prominence to win the Dubai Sevens and UAE Premiership double, with Bahrain winning the other major trophy on offer, the West Asia Cup.

Tonkin is keen to add more silverware to the Bahrain trophy cabinet, but is more concerned with preparing his players for the following week’s Premiership opener – which will be against Quins in Abu Dhabi.

“There’s a trophy on the line but it’s more about the performance and the win, building winning momentum before the league starts next week,” said the Welshman.

“We obviously want to win the game and it’ll be great if we can get some silverware early on. But our focus is on the West Asia Premiership which starts in a week’s time. We want to win and we’re looking forward to hosting Quins in our first game of the season.

“Obviously it’s a different dynamic for both of us as we play each other in the first round of the Premiership a week later so it’s pretty unique and exciting.

“It gives us both the opportunity to look at each other before the first game. Both squads are focused on this weekend though and getting a result and making a good start.”

He is wary of the threat the travelling Quins pose to his side. “We can’t wait,” he added.

“We didn’t look into their game too much, we just reviewed our own game and going forward. We know it’s going to be a very difficult challenge to what we faced in Kandy, we know it’s going to be a more physical encounter.

“There’s going to be some big, big runners coming at us.”

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Sharjah Wanderers announce their shock withdrawal from 2018/19 UAE Conference

Matt Jones 12/09/2018
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Sharjah players celebrate their UAE Conference success in 2015/16.

The rise and fall nature of the UAE rugby landscape has continued with Sharjah Wanderers announcing their withdrawal from the UAE Conference.

The club – one of the Emirates’ oldest who established roots in the late 1970s – announced via their Twitter and Instagram accounts on Wednesday that they had taken the “tough call” with a little over a week to go until the start of the 2018/19 season.

It’s a sad state of affairs for a club that celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2017, with chairman Shane Breen revealing the club had lost half of its players from last season over the summer.

Their withdrawal follows Dubai Wasps’ decision to fold on the eve of the 2017/18 season.

Wanderers returned to pre-season training on August 28 and had been scheduled to kick off the new term at home to Dubai Sharks next Friday, September 21.

But they will now drop out, in the hope of being able to rebuild and return next year.

“It’s not been the best day,” admitted a distraught Breen, a Northern Irishman who was born in the UAE and spent his whole life at the club.

“It was a really tough call to make but we had to be honest with ourselves. At the end of last season, we lost over half the squad, mostly due to guys relocating or taking some time away from to focus on other things.

“Every season we would typically see 10-15 new guys joining up but that’s just not happened this year. We’ve had some new boys come along but unfortunately not enough.

“Unfortunately, the Community League wasn’t an option for us either.”

Despite making the call, Breen insists Wanderers will hope to regroup next season and he said the club’s other thriving teams will continue to flourish. The famous red and black of Wanderers will still make appearances at the Dubai Sevens and various other tournaments throughout the campaign.

“The boys are all still committed Wanderers and we’ll do our best to rebuild this year and be back next season,” said a defiant Breen.

“Our ladies are still going strong though and the men’s team as well as the vets and ladies will be in the sevens this year which will be our focus for the next few months.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Wanderers released statements across their social media platforms announcing the news.

“SWRFC are sad to announce that the Men’s XV have had to make the heartbreaking decision to withdraw from this years’ UAE Conference,” read the statement.

Wanderers celebrate their incredible 2015/16 campaign.

Wanderers celebrate their incredible 2015/16 campaign.

“Declining player numbers have taken its toll on the team and the squad no longer has the numbers to compete in this year’s competition.

“We’d like to thank all our members and sponsors for their continued support as we look to stage our comeback next season. This isn’t the last you’ll see of the Wandies men’s team who’ll still be competing in the Dubai Sevens and other social competitions throughout the year.”

Wanderers have been around for almost as long as the UAE has been an independent nation – with only Dubai Exiles and Abu Dhabi Bats (now Harlequins) older.

The club has enjoyed much success in recent years too. Nic Walters led the club to a thrilling UAE Conference title win two years ago – beating Jebel Ali Dragons 2nds in the final play of the game of the 2015/16 final.

After deciding against promotion to the top-flight of UAE rugby, Sharjah struggled a year later before returning to prominence last season as they reached the Conference final yet again, this time on the losing side of some late drama as Dubai Tigers’ sudden death try earned a 25-20 win.

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