Around 800 rugby-mad youngsters plus their families swarmed on the UAE capital last week to celebrate Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ mini and youth section’s awards day.
The size of the club’s thriving youth section was perhaps emphasised by the fact the event was held over a mammoth seven hours, with age groups from Under-7 to U-19 all being rewarded for their efforts throughout the season.
The event was held at the Novotel Hotel, with trophies presented by Quins’ senior players.
Alex Bailey, mini and youth manager, said: “For me the awards were a great success. Whilst individuals were recognised with awards the whole day was a message of unity as age groups, teams and most of all as a club.
“From start to finish the coaches’ speeches echoed words such as values, respect, teamwork, pride and fun. It was a delight to see all of the messages we have been trying to convey to these kids all year being delivered and received as second nature.
“My personal thanks go out to all of the players, parents, volunteers and sponsors and senior players who have offered their support throughout the season. Without any one of these people what we do would not be possible.
“Our best wishes go out to the families that will be leaving the UAE this summer, and I look forward to seeing those who will remain in September when the new season will start.”
Many of the club’s senior players also coach at various youth levels throughout the Zayed Sports City-based club, and head coach Mike McFarlane said his charges were happy to share in the youngsters’ success.
“A fantastic day where there was a constant buzz of pride from children and parents alike,” said McFarlane, who has just completed his debut season in charge of Quins.
“For the seniors to witness this first hand was very rewarding with many having been involved in coaching and the junior tournaments. The juniors were inspired receiving their awards from the seniors and that is exactly what we wanted to achieve with the ‘one club’ ethos.
“A personal highlight was to see Luke Stevenson, our captain and fly-half, found by a junior and his father to ask for kicking guidance. Luke offered his time and they left the conversation saying ‘he wants to be as good as you’.
Dubai Hurricanes captain Perry is currently training with the national team hoping to earn selection to Apollo Perelini’s squad for next month’s Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) Division II campaign.
Perelini has been putting around 35 players through their paces at The Sevens and Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence over the last two weeks but will cull the group to a 25-man touring squad sometime this week.
The domestic season might have just ended, but Perry insists every player is pushing themselves to be involved in the ARC campaign.
“There’s no sense in us winding down. Boys have really got a crack at international rugby, probably the only crack for a lot of us, and at the end of the day it’s another six weeks’ hard graft with a good award at the end of it,” said the 27-year-old lock.
“Certainly nobody’s taking their foot off the gas. If anything, boys are pressing down harder. It’s another six weeks, it’s like a mini season, it’s exciting, and hopefully there’s an end product.”
Perry arrived in the UAE from Morecambe in May 2012 and just missed out on UAE selection for their trip to Malaysia 12 months ago. There, the UAE narrowly missed out on promotion back to Asia Rugby’s second tier.
They beat Thailand and Chinese Taipei but lost 20-19 to the hosts.
That provided a boost to rugby in the country and, having spoken to players involved who talked in glowing terms of their experiences, Perry is determined to be a part of it.
“I missed out last year, but I spoke to the boys who went and they said it was really good,” said Perry.
“It was a good crack but also there was some good rugby and they got a lot from it. My target was always to get to the end of this season then have a go at it but there’s a lot of competition.
“Nothing’s a given. Three or four players are probably certain of their place but all the rest is up in the air and that’s good in terms of competition. We’re all in the same position.
“If you get selected, the aim is to go there and win both games.”
Now eligible for the UAE after passing the three-year residency rule, Perry is determined to make the squad, especially after a disappointing club season with Canes.
“It’s been a difficult year with Canes, a lot of ups and downs, but now it’s different. You go from playing with your mates to boys you don’t know, lads you play against, it’s brilliant,” added Perry.
By October he had reached the three-year residency period required to represent the UAE, and a superb nine-try season for Jebel Ali Dragons then saw the flanker called into Apollo Perelini’s training squad for the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) Test series in Uzbekistan next month. Mission accomplished.
It hasn’t been a perfect season at club level for the 26-year-old Scotsman, with Dragons finishing fifth and seventh in the UAE Premiership and West Asia Championship respectively.
Blamire, however, is determined to end it on a high with a first senior international cap.
“Playing for the UAE was always on the radar because I was coming up to that three-year mark,” said the Surrey-born Glaswegian, who played international rugby league at Under-18 level for Scotland.
“I was really chuffed with that. Some of my best pals in the side like Ovey (Ian Overton) and Nialler (Niall Statham) played last year and said it was a great experience. The UAE’s like our home now so to represent the country would be great.
“Nialler, being the sevens captain, was always on at us to find out if we’re available. I think he dropped my name in and I then got added to the initial invite list. With the Dragons boys having gone on the tour last year and a lot with the sevens too, I was always keen to get involved. I’ve been working towards it.”
Representing the UAE in recent years has lost some of its lustre but after a positive showing in Division II of the ARC in Malaysia a year ago – the UAE narrowly lost out on promotion to the host nation – Blamire insists pride has been restored.
“Definitely, that’s a point that’s been made,” he said.
“This will be the first time it’s been all Premiership players selected and you can tell the standard’s really high.
“Some of the big boys have got some sick skills, so the standard and calibre of player overall is really high, which is good, because you can already feel people wanting to prove in the early sessions what they can do.
“That’s exactly what you want, to bring the best out of all the players there. The sessions have been really good. The style of play we’re working towards is something I enjoy. Linking the forwards and the backs and I think Apollo really knows his stuff.
“He’s got the respect of all the players and we’re all learning from him so I’ve been really enjoying it.”
Former dual code Samoa star Perelini is currently putting his charges through their paces ahead of naming a 30-35 man training squad at the end of the month.
They will play a friendly against a UAE Premiership select Barbarians team on April 28, after which Perelini will trim his squad down to a 25-man roster that will travel to Tashkent. In a bid to make himself stand out, Blamire, who can also play hooker, has been upping his front-row training in a desperate bid to earn a spot on the plane.
“For me, if you’ve been picked for the training squad, the aim is to make the final cut, so I’ll be doing the right things and everything I can to make sure I’m selected,” he added.
“Now I’m there I’m determined to grab the opportunity with both hands. I want to be making the maximum effort. It looks like I’ll be playing flanker and hooker. I’ve been doing a bit of extra work on my lineout throwing and making sure I’ll be first choice.”