Lots of UAE rugby teams have been defying the heat to train during the scorching summer months, but you will have to go some way to beat Arabian Knights’ preparations for the new season.
The UAE Conference side had a month of ‘pre’ pre-season training prior to Ramadan, with many of the club’s male and female players being teachers who are away for the majority of the summer.
— Arabian Knights Men (@GetyourOrangeon) July 15, 2015
Even when the educators left, those left were still hard at work training on the beach ahead of the club’s first official pre-season session that took place at Dubai Sports City earlier this week.
Knights UAE international prop Tyson Byrne says the players have been putting in the extra work in order to be ready for the new campaign.
“The first official training was on Monday night, mainly ball handling drills with fitness built in to them. It’s been hard graft but the positivity from the group made you want to push harder,” said the 24-year-old Irishman.
The club has a new head coach this season, Ian Dawson stepping into the void left by John Taimana, who has moved upstairs into a role supporting the senior sides and liaising with the executive committee.
Dawson has been coaching the CNCF (Christina Noble Children’s Foundation) Legends for the last few years and led them to the International Veterans title at the 2014 Dubai Sevens and Byrne has been impressed by what he’s seen so far.
“All reports say that he is a good coach and players who have previously worked with him say they enjoyed working with him,” said Byrne.
“In the short time that he’s been at the helm of Knights he has impressed me. He knows what he wants and how to get there.”
Knights finished sixth in the Conference last season, qualifying for the post-Christmas Top 6. They were sixth there, giving them sixth place overall, and Byrne says the club want to better that this season.
“Our goal is to finish fourth this season,” said the front row.
“The management of the club think this is a realistic and an achievable target, while we also want to be the highest ranked first team in the conference.”
Knights open their Conference season against Heartbeat Tigers at Dubai Sports City on Friday, September 25.
UAE national team head coach Roelof Kotze will reintroduce expatriate players to the national sevens squad this season.
Sevens will debut as an event at the Olympic Games in Rio next year but the UAE missed out on a place after failing to come through the qualifying tournament in Chennai in March.
Finishing fourth out of five teams there also meant they failed to automatically qualify for the 2015 ARFU Sevens Series and Kotze says his decision to bring back expat players is designed to boost the UAE team and help them become a regular fixture on the regional circuit.
— Sport360° (@Sport360) July 26, 2015
The South African is using the template from the 15 man format, where a mixture of expat and Emirati players form the team.
The XVs side beat Thailand and Chinese Taipei in an encouraging tour of Malaysia in May, narrowly losing out on promotion from Division II of the revamped Asia Rugby Championship.
“After the Rio Olympics qualification process we decided to bring back expats into the international sevens fold,” said Kotze.
“We looked closely at it and we were influenced by how the 15-a-side team did with a mix of Emiratis and expats at the Asia Rugby Championship.
“Hopefully it will help us to get some wins under our belt. I think, with the experience the expats have, they can guide us on the field and help the Emirati players grasp the skills needed.
“As a player I was coached as much by the older players as I was by the coaches and we believe it will make a difference.
“In Chennai our path to Rio came to an end and with Rio, players were required to be UAE passport holders. We made progress last year but I think this move will give us confidence to do well going forward.”
The UAE finished bottom of the Asian Sevens Series in 2014, finishing last at all three tournaments in Hong Kong, Malaysia and China.
Meanwhile, the UAE 15-man team beat Chinese Taipei and Thailand at the Asia Rugby Championship two months ago and only lost to Malaysia by a point, so Kotze sees no reason why they can’t compete with those nations on the sevens circuit.
His aim is to be one of the 11 core sides in Asia, alongside Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei and Uzbekistan.
Currently, the UAE are regularly invited to sevens tournaments around the world but Kotze wants to put his men in a position in the future where they are good enough to qualify outright.
“We don’t want to rely on invites, we want to be good enough, we want to be there by right and I think, by selecting expats, that will strengthen our chances,” he explained.
— Apollo Perelini (@Apollo11Rugby) May 16, 2015
“We want to become very competitive on the Asian circuit and stay on the Asian circuit, we don’t want to be invited to tournaments every year.
“At the moment we’re in a position where the first six or seven Emirati players are good enough to be there but the guys on the bench struggle because they couldn’t train properly due to work commitments or have national service.
“With four or five expats to fill the gaps, it will help our guys. We need to put players in a position to be able to give their best possible.
“The Shaheen programme is developing Emiratis and we want to develop guys to be able to perform at the national level. Picking expat players helps us stay at that level and helps fast-track the development of Emiratis.”
Of the three Asian Sevens Series events this year, the UAE has been invited to two, the Shanghai Sevens in China between September 5-6, and the Colombo Sevens in Sri Lanka between October 10-11.
The Bangkok Sevens in Thailand will be played in-between but the UAE will not make an appearance.
Cross-code convert Sam Burgess is being pushed into a midfield role by England to cover for the absence of powerhouse Manu Tuilagi, according to former wing Mark Cueto.
With final World Cup selection just over a month away, debate is still raging over the 26-year-old’s best position for the national team.
Coach Stuart Lancaster insists he will only select the former rugby league star at centre despite his best displays for club Bath coming from blindside flanker.
Cueto believes England are trying to compensate for the loss of the explosive Tuilagi, whose conviction back in May on three charges of assault cost him his place at the tournament.
“You have to argue his best form for Bath has been in the back row but Stuart Lancaster has been forthright in saying he is looking at him as a centre – but maybe his form for Bath at centre hasn’t been good enough to warrant an international place,” the recently-retired Sale Sharks stalwart Cueto said.
“Manu Tuilagi was a real linebreaker and physical presence in that back line and maybe if Sam isn’t the man we don’t really have anyone else of that physical ability.
“We have a lot of playmakers, whether it is a Jonathan Joseph or someone like that, but they are looking for a real, big, physical presence in that midfield and Sam would fit that down to a tee.
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“That is probably the reason they are pushing him there, as well as his ability with handling and passing. “It is a tough decision. The guy has only been in rugby union six months and it is a massive ask.
“You could argue this World Cup has probably come six months too early for him. There are no doubts about his credentials as a rugby player but it is just with those fine adjustments from league to union he could probably do with another six months under his belt.
“If he can get up to speed quick enough he would be a fantastic player for that team and I am sure that is why Stuart and the guys are looking to push him too much. Whether it is too much we will see.”
Lancaster’s other major selection decision comes at fly-half, where Owen Farrell’s serious knee injury ruled him out of the Six Nations and allowed George Ford to stake a claim for a World Cup starting spot.
Cueto, speaking at a World Cup trophy tour event yesterday, admits the pair are hard to separate.
What an awesome two weeks training in Denver with all the boys. Tough, uncompromising and fun. Time for home now X pic.twitter.com/wUrRlfrh8u
— Sam Burgess (@SamBurgess8) July 25, 2015
“Fly-half is a real headache because they are very different in the way they play,” he added.
“Owen is very defence-orientated; he is aggressive, strong in tackles and if there is a penalty in the dying seconds he is your man to take it.
“George is more of an attacking fly-half who looks to get the backline into the game a little bit more.
“In terms of tournament rugby, Owen is your man from a consistency point of view and knocking the three points over. If I am going purely on a results point of view I am going with Owen but at the moment, purely on the back of Six Nations, it is probably 51-49 to George at the minute.”