Dubai Hurricanes captain Dave Knight says there has been a real “buzz” surrounding the club during pre-season and everyone is eagerly awaiting the 2016/17 campaign’s arrival.
Canes will welcome Abu Dhabi Harlequins to The Sevens on September 23 for the West Asia Premiership kick-off and James Ham’s side warmed up for the new season with a 10 tries to three triumph against Al Ain Amblers on Friday night.
After a few lacklustre campaigns, Knight is confident of a much-improved showing thanks to a change of structure both on and off the field at the club this summer.
A link has been forged with their Super Rugby namesake in Wellington, while former England Under-18s and England Universities player Mike Wernham has been named forwards coach. Simon Seward will coach the second team and act as the club’s strength and conditioning coach.
Knight revealed the new additions have already made their mark.
“Pre-season has been going really well,” beamed Knight, who replaced Daniel Perry as skipper over the off-season. “We’ve been drilling in a lot of structure this pre-season both in attack and defense. Numbers have been picking up as more people get back from holidays. Mike Wernham has had an immediate impact on the forwards and the boys are responding well.
“We’ve got a couple of weeks training now to finalise preparations before we kick off against Abu Dhabi. There’s a buzz building again and everyone is looking forward to the season.”
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.”