Abu Dhabi Harlequins expecting fast start in Muscat

Matt Jones 21/01/2016
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David v Goliath: Abu Dhabi are hot favourites against Muscat, who have lost heavily twice.

They may be playing a team that has hemorrhaged 201 points in just two games, but that’s not the only reason Abu Dhabi Harlequins are looking forward to tomorrow’s trip to Muscat.

Quins have been left without a fixture for the first two rounds of matches after they and Jebel Ali Dragons agreed to postpone their opening day appointment, while last week was Quins’ bye week in the nine-team competition.
Coach Mike McFarlane admitted it’s been difficult to be left on the sidelines but says there is extra motivation now a return to competitive rugby is upon them. “We’re looking forward to being back on the pitch, it’s been way too long,” said McFarlane.
“You can work and train all you want on the training field without getting the minutes on the paddock under the belt, but ultimately that is where you get the results and do the work. The boys can’t wait to get the season rolling again and continue where we left off.”
Where they left off before the 15s season took a break for the sevens campaign was at the top of the UAE Premiership and, having retained their Gulf Men’s League title at the Dubai Sevens in between, Quins are aiming for a trio of trophies.
“We want to get back to winning ways,” said McFarlane. “Winning is a habit and the boys can’t wait to get back to action.”
Even though a lot of players kept in shape via the shortened format of the game, McFarlane has been impressed with the commitment to fitness of his forward pack, many of whom did not feature.
“It would have been easy for them to indulge over Christmas,” added McFarlane. “But they’ve been training really hard and have kept themselves in good knick.”
Quins are without Max Trimble who is sidelined with a hamstring injury, prop James McAuley (back), plus absentees Carl Knox and Luke Stevenson. Former Abu Dhabi Saracens centre Pieter Morton is nearing a return to action but remains a few weeks away.
After two painful weeks on the road, Muscat are at least looking forward to a home fixture.
“We are feeling optimistic,” said vice captain Karl Rasmussen, whose side were pummeled 146-5 on the opening day at Dubai Exiles before being beaten 55-5 by Dubai Hurricanes a week later.
“Harlequins are a strong team but we are hoping that with a few injuries, the travel and the fact that they haven’t played this year will work in our favour.”
Doha v Dubai Hurricanes
Dubai Hurricanes face the daunting task of travelling to Qatar to try and dismantle Doha, but head coach James Ham believes his side are capable of causing an upset.
Doha have two wins from two and will be hard to beat at home, but Ham says he and his men will not be flying out to make up the numbers, even though he believes the reigning Gulf Top Six champions are even stronger than last season.
“Doha is always a tough place to travel and they are proving to be even stronger and well drilled this season,” said Ham.
“As is always the case, we have a few players unable to travel, the exact number still to be finalised, but we will be taking a squad that are looking to cause an upset.”
For Aaron Palmer and his side, they return home after coming away from daunting Al Ghazal last week having inflicted a second- straight home defeat on Abu Dhabi Saracens.
“It will be good to get back home and play in front of our parochial crowd,” said Palmer. “Hurricanes will be a good side so we have been training all week with a plan in mind to utilise our strengths.”
Bahrain v Jebel Ali Dragons
Jebel Ali Dragons are also on the road and looking to build on a 54-24 win over  Al Ain when they head to Bahrain.
“After a fantastic win last week we are really looking to build some momentum,” said director of rugby, Paul Hart.
This Friday will be a tricky trip as we are only able to select 50 per cent of last week’s squad due to injuries and other players not available. This is a real shame, but we are still determined to push for a great away win.”
Bahrain team manager Ian Davies said his squad are confident despite being brought back down to earth last week by Dubai Exiles.
“The boys are in a great frame of mind and, having lost due to poor discipline last week, are
determined to take commitment one step further this week,” he said.

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UAE strikes historic TV deal that will see highlights broadcast

Matt Jones 19/01/2016
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The people behind the deal.

Clubs have unanimously backed the UAE Rugby Show, which will broadcast weekly highlights of the domestic game and national team matches from the first week of February.

The UAE Rugby Federation and Dubai Sports Channel yesterday finalised a two-year agreement that will see a weekly broadcast during the UAE rugby season.

The 30-minute show will offer highlights from the previous two weeks of UAE Premiership, Conference and Community League matches, as well as all the action from the cross-border West Asia Championship.

There will also be regular spots focusing on the various UAE national teams, Emirati development, club and player features and more.

“This is what rugby in the UAE needs,” said Al Ain Amblers director of rugby, Rocco de Bruyn.

“I don’t think people realise the importance media coverage plays in sport, especially if you are still in the developing stages of introducing a new code to a country.

“This is definitely a step in the right direction.”

“Long term I feel this is something that will help clubs become professional, that is the direction the sport is heading,” said Jebel Ali Dragons director of rugby, Paul Hart.

“This will simply speed up the process. This is a fantastic step forward for the sport in the region. It’s also a huge boost for clubs seeking sponsors.”

Secretary general of the UAE RF, Qais Al Dhalai said: “This is another exciting first for UAE Rugby. Our rugby community, from both the expatriate and the Emirati, is rich in interesting stories. We are confident the weekly show will be well received and supported by all and become an integral part of the wider UAE Rugby community’s week”.

Rashid Amiri, director general of Dubai Sports Channel, added: “Our team at Dubai Sports Channel is committed to producing a quality, interesting show that will connect local and expatriate viewers with relevant rugby content (and) will boost the efforts and profile of UAE Rugby across our platform.”

The UAE Rugby Show will be broadcast in English and will offer Arabic subtitles.

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Doha full of dynamite in early rounds of West Asia Championship

Matt Jones 18/01/2016
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Aaron McLelland (c) in action for Doha against AD Saracens in the West Asia Cup final last season.

Rugby is a team sport but early West Asia Championship pacesetters Doha showed in defeating Abu Dhabi Saracens on Friday night they possess several outstanding individual talents which make them serious contenders to win the inaugural competition.

Doha gained a small slice of revenge for their West Asia Cup heartbreak suffered at the hands of Sarries 10 months ago while possibly ending the UAE side’s bid to ret-ain their crown with a thrilling 31-22 win under the Al Ghazal lights.

Livewire full-back Aaron McLelland, fly-half Brook Tremayne and pack leader Caine Elisara are three such stars that could help erase the pain of that madcap March 20 day when Sarries became West Asia Cup champions with an enthralling 26-20 victory in Qatar.

Revenge was sweet for the visitors but tasted bitter for the hosts, with most of the damage done by the fleet-footed full-back who scored two tries.

McLelland served notice of his talent when he fielded a kick and ran it back 70 metres in the blink of an eye for the game’s opening try after just four minutes.

His second restored Doha’s lead and authority just as Sarries were beginning to stamp their mark on proceedings, and head coach Aaron Palmer is delighted to have him at his disposal.

“We know we have him out at the back and that’s how best we use him,” said the New Zealander, who admitted he has a few superstars on his hands.  “The Gulf knows who he is now after last season and the space closes on him a bit earlier these days so we have to figure out a way to utilise his pace and skill.

“That’s using our forward pack to bring him in so it is a team game. When we get our team operating, to give those individuals a chance, then they can take them. That’s what we have to constantly do.”

Two more worth a mention are veteran No8 Elisara and string-puller Tremayne.

“I’ve known Caine a long time now, we played in Europe together and against each other,” said Palmer of a player who also acts as assistant and forwards coach.

“He was looking for somewhere to go (before the season) and we had an opportunity to bring some people over to Qatar and I got him in.

“He’s got miles on the clock, he knows the game. He’s out there and controls the pack. He coaches them during the week and having him on the park is a bonus.

“He has that aura to be able to lead and with Clarky (captain Jamie Clarke), they work in tandem to make sure we’re going in the right direction.

“At the same time he’s got the skill level, he’s got these big mits and usually just carries the ball one handed. He knows what to do.”

As for Tremayne, he went from looking ordinary against Sarries – missing two straightforward penalties to allow the hosts a way back into the contest – to the sublime, nervously sinking two late conversions from the touchline.

“I think it was in his head. He asked if we had another kicker and I said no, you’re the kicker. You can kick. He took it on board and thanked me after the game, and he nailed two from the line. I expect that from him,” said Palmer.

Of Doha’s 11 tries in a 67-33 vict-ory over Al Ain Amblers on the opening day, the imposing Elisara incredibly scored eight. He had to make do with one this week but in a closer contest, he admitted he was happier with the one against Sarries.

“That was a bit lucky to be honest,” the modest man mountain said of his feat the previous week.

“It was once in a lifetime and I don’t think I’ll do it again. This one was a lot more important. We’re two from two so it’s a good start.”

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