Sharjah Wanderers one win away from unbeaten season

Matt Jones 24/03/2016
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Sharjah Wanderers and Jebel Ali clash for the UAE Conference Top 6 title.

It’s been a dominant campaign for Nic Walters’ unbeaten men, whose only dropped points came in a 20-20 draw with Dragons in the UAE Conference in November. Wanderers have carried that form into the post-Christmas Top 6, racking up five more wins.

Their latest triumph was an 18-3 victory last week against tomorrow’s opponents, a result which gives them home-field advantage. Reaching the final is a fantastic feat for Sharjah, considering they lost their head coach and some

important players in the summer. “It’s been a fairytale season for us,” admitted club chairman Shane Breen.  “At the end of last season we knew we were losing our coach and a couple of key players, which was disappointing but gave us the impetus to change things up a bit.

“We managed to secure Nic as coach who had been an integral part of the club for three years and was highly liked and respected by the players. A lack of depth was a major reason we always seemed to struggle at the end of seasons when results mattered. Fortunately we were able to recruit some great players who lifted the squad and with the help of Nic and the other coaches everything seemed to fall into place.”

Despite drawing first blood with a win in Jebel Ali last week, Breen is taking nothing for granted.

“We know Dragons will be much more determined in the final,” he warned. “They were unbeaten until they played us and Sharjah v Dragons games are always extremely competitive.”

Dragons have their own motivation, having lost last year’s Top 6 showpiece to Al Ain Amblers.

“It’s not even been mentioned, only in a sense that we need to better it, so it’s more positive than negative,” said head coach Robbie Cameron, who joined in January after six years at Dubai Hurricanes. “It was my first loss last week. I was disappointed but we have a chance to put that right this weekend.”

History is also on Cameron’s side in this game. Two years ago he led Canes to an upset against Amblers, having lost the final league fixture against them a week earlier, so he doesn’t think Sharjah hold any psychological advantage.

“History could be about to repeat itself, that’s what I’m hoping for,” he said. “Sharjah are without doubt best team in the Conference this year, they deserved their record, but we’re the only team to take a point off them. We’re capable of beating them.”

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West Asia Championship means a double celebration for Exiles

Matt Jones 22/03/2016
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Title charge: Dubai Exiles' Kristian Stinson.

Dubai Exiles prop Kristian Stinson says the fact the club celebrates its 50th anniversary this year has

been a driving force behind their quest for success this season.

The oldest club in the UAE was behind the creation of the now world-famous Dubai Rugby Sevens, but while the tournament has gone on to greatness, its founders have fallen on hard times in recent years.

That all changed at the weekend though when a 92-22 beating of Dubai rivals Hurricanes saw them claim the West Asia Championship title.

Northern Irishman Stinson has been through the dark days with the club and admitted it’s fitting to return to prominence in such a poignant season.

“The 50th anniversary, it was always in the back of our minds, but when the West Asia Championship title started to become a reality it was more of a driving force,” said the 30-year-old, who has been in the Emirates for nearly a decade.

“It’s good for a club of this stature, with this heritage, to have gone through dark days to end as West Asia Champions. It’s unbelievable. When you see where we were last year, we were playing Gulf Conference rugby.”

Stinson is an Exiles stalwart, having moved across Dubai five years ago from Hurricanes after they had just been crowned West Asia champions themselves.

And, while much has been made of the raft of new arrivals that followed new director of rugby Jacques Benade to the club in the summer, including former Italy A fly-half Durandt Gerber, Stinson is just one of many reminders that while they may be new and improved, Exiles have been forged from the disappointment and
despair of previous years.

“A lot’s been said of the new players but there’s a core of boys at the club,” said Stinson.

“There’s me, Ed Armitage, Jonny Forbes, Justin Walsh, Glenn Moore, Charlie Sargent, Ryan and Danny Rapallo. These boys have been here for a long time. It’s not just all the new boys.

“When you have a nucleus of boys who know where the club’s been it helps to grind in the new boys and tell them this is what it means to us, so they buy into it.”

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Beaver Nomads give chairman perfect send-off with league win

Matt Jones 22/03/2016
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The Beaver Nomads defeated Jebel Ali Dragons 3rds in the final.

The Dubai Beaver Nomads were crowned winners of the inaugural UAE Community League last weekend with a 34-23 win against rivals Jebel Ali Dragons 3rds.

They may have a comical name, a smiling animated beaver adorns their tops and they play in the third tier of UAE domestic rugby, but nine wins and an unbeaten season must be taken seriously.

The Nomads have been wandering around UAE rugby circles for nearly two decades, but only became a 15s team for the first time this season, so to have won the Community League at their first attempt is some feat.

Outgoing chairman Daniel Whitley has been in the Emirates since 2009 but is heading home to the UK next week and couldn’t have wished for a better send-off.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything better in my last game for the club and in the last game of the season than to win the league,” said the 34-year-old Scouser after seven years in the UAE.

“It’s great to end my time on a high. It was a tough game against Dragons. They were our strongest test of the season and something had to give. We played well and deserved it.”

Something did indeed have to give, with the league’s only unbeaten sides clashing at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence on Friday.

Just four points separated the Nomads in first and second-placed Dragons, the win securing the title for Nomads and maintaining their superb 100 per cent record.

“It all worked out, I think it was fate. I’m very proud to have won it and it’s the perfect send-off for me,” said Whitley, who was instrumental in setting up the Community League for the 2015-16 campaign.

Whitley, an associate with Mott MacDonald, the global management, engineering and development consultants, decided to contact the UAE Rugby Federation about establishing a social 15s league in 2014, working alongside representatives from Dubai Sharks, Arabian Knights and Barrelhouse Warriors.

“After playing a number of friendlies with our friends at the Sharks in 2014 we decided we wanted to play more regularly but were not ready to commit to the UAE Conference, as we had families and other commitments,” said Whitley.

“We approached the UAE RF with the idea of creating a new league for development stage rugby.”

Teams consisting largely of veterans and players completely new to rugby competed on a bi-weekly format that didn’t require 100 per cent commitment, but has proved hugely popular and successful.

“I couldn’t have dreamed we’d win it, we just wanted to just give it a go,” added Whitley.

“It was a bit of a risk, but it worked. We played Dubai Wasps and Sharjah Wanderers in pre-season which were close games, so we knew we had a good team, but to win the league is a massive achievement. It’s been a great success for us as a club and for rugby in the region.”

Winning the Community League does not bring with it promotion to the Conference for now, but under new chairman Karl McGowan, perhaps Nomads will rise through the ranks in the future.

Whitley added: “Maybe we could go up later, but for the time being, we’d like to maintain what we’ve got. I’m sure Karl will do a great job and build the club further.”

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