Despite defeat to Doha in their inaugural Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League fixture, Abu Dhabi Saracens are in buoyant mood as they welcome Sri Lankan champions Kandy to the capital tonight.
In a West Asia Cup final rematch in Qatar on Friday night, Sarries took the lead against the hosts but Doha gained a slice of revenge for March’s final defeat with a 19-14 win to put themselves in the driving seat for Champions League glory.
Powerhouse South African hooker Gio Fourie scored the game’s opening try but mistakes from Sarries led to three breakaway tries for the hosts, new arrival Garth van Niekerk touching down for a consolation try near the end.
Sarries’ joint head coach Craig Nutt was nevertheless impressed with his side’s performance and is hoping the result will be different at Al Ghazal tonight.
“We’re really looking forward to the game,” said Welshman Nutt.
“We have a couple of guys coming back in, including skipper Jaen Botes. We have two new guys getting the nod too, all of whom had visa issues last week, and there’s exciting times ahead this season.
“We have got strength in depth this year. Injuries could have had us in trouble last year but in pre-season we’ve had 48 players training among the firsts and seconds, which is unheard of for Sarries.
“We have a very happy camp at the moment. To go over to Doha and play like we did without a full squad and put a performance in like we did was great.
“We made three mistakes and they scored three 70 metre plus tries. It happens, that’s rugby sometimes. There were also a few calls that didn’t go our way and it could have been a different result but overall we were very pleased.”
Someone else who is looking forward to an entertaining spectacle is Abu Dhabi Harlequins coach Mike McFarlane.
The Englishman’s team face Sarries in the opening round of UAE Premiership fixtures a week on Friday, while Quins are in the unique position of having played Kandy in a pre-season friendly earlier this month, winning 32-17 in Sri Lanka’s Central Province region.
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“I think it’s two teams with two different strengths. Whilst kandy have some big lads up front Saracens have quite a forward orientated team which are powerful and effective,” said McFarlane.
“It will be interesting, if they have enough ball, to watch the fleet-footed speed demons in the Kandy backs as their footwork and patterns of play were excellent.
“I think it will be a physical but fast-paced game which will test the conditioning levels of the Saracens, but they should hold their own as they’re West Asia champions.”
Doha lead the way in the competition after one game, Kandy and Kazakhstan champions Olymp playing out a thrilling 35-35 draw in Dubai on Saturday.
Ben Youngs has warned England of the danger posed by Fiji if they enter the second half of Friday’s World Cup opener sensing an upset is possible.
The Islanders are heavy underdogs but know that if they remain in touch by the interval, they could take advantage of a restless Twickenham crowd and crank up the pressure on the tournament hosts.
It is a message that Youngs is keen to emphasise after several chances were butchered in last weekend’s 21-13 victory over Ireland, enabling the Six Nations champions to remain in the hunt.
“You’ve got to put teams to bed early. If we get three opportunities early on against Fiji, then we must take them,” scrum-half Youngs said.
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“They’re not the sort of side you want to still be in the game at half-time or 60 minutes because they have the ability to score from anywhere. They have so many threats like their offloading and stepping. We need to make sure we’re not keeping them in the game and feeding their belief.”
Fiji’s dangermen are scrum-half Nikola Matawalu, giant wing Nemani Nadolo and centre Vereniki Goneva, who is one of Youngs’ team-mates at Leicester.
“It’s just ridiculous what Fijians can do with limited space,” he said. “Give them any room in which to operate and they’ll make you look silly. We’ve got to make sure we’re watertight in defence.”
Dubai Exiles and Al Ain Amblers can go into the new UAE Premiership campaign full of confidence after both teams showed flashes of brilliance in their explosive clash.
There was pace and power aplenty on show in the Garden City as Al Ain hosted its pre-season tournament, with the highlight of the day Exiles’ 34-24 triumph in the night’s showpiece match.
Both teams have new head coaches, Jacques Benade seeing his Exiles jump into an early 22-7 and then 27-12 lead before the hosts stormed back in the second half, Andrew Rouvi’s men at one point closing the gap to 27-24 before a fifth Dubai score settled matters.
Benade was pleased with the competitive streak his side showed.
“That’s what we want to do,” said the South African. “The boys have been working hard the last four weeks and we want to go and compete. We don’t really have a target, we just want to go and see if we can win every game. If we can do that it will be brilliant.
“(Friday) showed, with ball in hand, we can be very good. Without the ball we just need to be more disciplined.
“It was an excellent game against a brilliant team so it was ideal, it’s what everyone needs.”
New Amblers coach Rouvi, meanwhile, believes his side will hold their own in the Premiership.
“It’s early days but I like to think we will,” he said. “We’ve got a good starting point but we need to work from here. I think we need to do some fine tuning.
“Exiles exposed us a bit in the first half, so there’s definitely some things to work on, but we’re never beaten.
“We were down then came back to within three points. I think we showed good skills and some brilliance, but we have to keep it consistent and I think we’ll get there, but this was a good starting point.”
Both teams will perhaps head into the 2015-16 campaign feeling they have something to prove.
Amblers are the new boys, promoted to the Premiership after a stunning, unbeaten season on their way to being crowned kings of the UAE Conference, but aware the Premiership is an all together different environment.
Exiles, meanwhile, endured a frustrating campaign, finishing fifth in the Premiership and missing out on the elite Gulf Top Six competition.
They were forced to watch as Abu Dhabi Saracens, who they beat on the opening night of the season, went on to lift the West Asia Cup.
All the signs from Friday, however, point to the fact that anyone believing these two will be the weakest links will be left eating their words.
English twins Ryan and Danny Rapello caught the eye for Exiles, full-back Ryan displaying lightening pace to scamper over for two of his side’s tries, scrum-half Danny scoring one too.
South African fly-half Durandt Gerber was assured with the ball in hand or at his feet, nailing one impressive touchline conversion in swirling wind.
Exiles also have Tosh Masson in their ranks, the 30-year-old former centre spent time with Harlequins in the UK between 2007-10, making 21 appearances and scoring two tries for the English Premiership outfit. He also touched down in Friday night’s win.
Amblers also showed plenty of promise in their second half fight-back, especially Fijian Jerry Kilicanasau, who made his international bow for the UAE Under-20’s sevens side in the two legs of the U-20 Asia Sevens Series in Malaysia and Hong Kong last month.
He was at the heart of everything good Amblers did in attack, touching down for one try and also having a hand in a few more.