The fly-half came up against Dubai Exiles star Durandt Gerber in the opening game of the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League at The Sevens on Friday night as the two rivals drew 23-23.
Gerber, the South African former Italy A cap, was a sensation in his debut campaign in the Emirates last season, leading Exiles to a UAE Premiership and West Asia Championship double. Stevenson scored all 23 Quins points on Friday, including two tries, and admits having players like Gerber on the opposing side helps him raise his game.
“Obviously he’s a quality player but I’m quite happy for him to get a lot of praise,” admitted the modest Stevenson.
“I just get on with my game, but he’s a quality player and I think you have to set your game up to play against that type of player. If I play better because of him then I don’t mind that, I’m happy with that.”
The Champions League serves as a curtain-raiser to the domestic season which kicks off on September 23 with Quins travelling to Dubai Hurricanes for an opening West Asia Premiership fixture.
Stevenson is encouraged by how his team’s pre-season has been going.
He said: “Pre-season has been good. One thing about Mike [McFarlane, head coach], he is very structured. We knew three weeks before the end of last season we were going to have a good pre-season.
“We’ve got a few new lads in and a few more to come and the lads who were here at the twos last season have stepped up so we’ve got a lot of strength. Everyone’s fit. These conditions aren’t easy to play in but it’s helped massively, and Mike’s done an awesome job.
“I’ve actually missed quite a bit because of work and I wasn’t supposed to play Friday with a ham-string concern. We’ve got a bit of depth and we’ve all gelled pretty well. We’re now looking forward to the new season.”
The versatile back has a hugely promising future ahead of him and is looking forward to developing further at the UAE Premiership and West Asia Championship double-winners Kilicanasau, already a senior UAE sevens international, admitted it was a wrench to leave the Garden City, where he has lived for the last 14 years, but believes he will become a much better player with the help of Benade.
“I want to develop. Instead of staying put and learning less, I want to come and learn more and Exiles, things I haven’t learned before,” the 18-year-old said on the sidelines as he watched his new side play out an entertaining 23-23 draw with Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League opener at The Sevens on Friday night.
The 18-year-old is expected to make his bow in the black and red jersey next Friday when Exiles entertain Sri Lankan champions Kandy with the title on the line.
“(I want to) learn from top players they’ve signed and I’m looking forward to playing. I’m not fit at the moment but I’ll train and hopefully be ready to go next week.
“I started training with them two weeks ago and it’s been going good. Jacques said he would save me for next week’s game with Kandy.
“I’m looking forward to it. I wanted to play this week against a few of my other Fijian brothers at Harlequins but it’s the first game, so they had to go with their own team, so I’ll save it up for next week.”
The fleet-footed Kilicanasau is studying audio engineering and film-making at the SAE Institute in Dubai’s Knowledge Village and hopes his move will add to a burgeoning career that is already home to an impressive highlights reel.
As well as the switch to Exiles being more convenient for studies, Kilicanasau added that the place he had called home since moving from his native Fiji in 2002 had begun to feel less familiar with a raft of departures this summer.
Esekaia Dranibota, Emosi Ratuvecanaua and Sirilo Laladidi lined up for Quins on Friday after also leaving Al Ain, while Josua Navabale did so 12 months ago.
The youngster spoke to his father as well as UAE national team coach Apollo Perelini before making the move.
“I wanted to come here. With a lot of the Fijian boys moving on from Al Ain, it felt like it wasn’t home anymore,” Kilicanasau said of leaving Amblers, a club he had spent a decade with.
“A few of the boys have gone to Jebel Ali Dragons also, so I decided to move as well. Al Ain wouldn’t feel like home without them. Exiles wanted me to come too, so I decided to come.
“It was a tough decision to leave. I came to the UAE in 2002 and have been in Al Ain since then. I’ve been a bumble bee for 10 years so leaving Al Ain was tough.
“My family’s there, especially my brothers in the team, but I’m thinking about my career and future, not about where I stay, moving to a better club, moving my career forward and stepping it up.”
Dubai Exiles coach Jacques Benade has told his players they have to prove themselves again to earn a place in the starting XV for the new season. The team enjoyed a stellar campaign last term, winning the domestic double.
While the South African cherished the achievements, those feats are now in the past and he has turned his focus on 2016-17 beginning with tomorrow’s West Asia Champions League clash against Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
The two sides meet at The Sevens in Dubai and with Sri Lanka’s Kandy also featuring in the three-team tournament, the South African insists it’s a chance for his players to make their case ahead of the new season beginning on September 23.
“Yes absolutely. I think that’s how we see these two games by giving the new guys an opportunity to play and also players who were also on the fringes a chance to get on the field,” he said. “For me, every year is a new year and if they played every game last year, it means nothing now. We are starting all over again this year.
“There will be players who played in the 2nds, who now want to play first team rugby, so I think everyone has good competition and in certain areas there is really good competition. It means the players will have to work really hard to make the starting line-up.”
The coach has nearly a full-strength squad to choose from with only two or three players missing, and expects a stern test against the “top” capital side.
“It’s an ideal opener for us,” he said. “You want to play against top teams and players. “Quins have shown they are one of the top teams, they are consistent, and will definitely be a big threat this season. I think they will be in the top-two top-three.”
Opposite number, Michael McFarlane goes into the encounter on the back of a an impressive pre-season but is not concerned of tomorrow’s opponents.
“We’ll look to experiment with a number of lads in different positions and get minutes under their belt,” he said. “I’m not really looking at any other team. All my focus and energy is into Abu Dhabi Harlequins. I’m not really concerned into what everyone else is doing.”