Mike McFarlane insists the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League title is far from a two-horse race and is concerned by the lack of respect being shown towards Sri Lankan champions Kandy.
McFarlane’s Abu Dhabi Harlequins played out a thrilling 23-23 draw with fierce UAE rivals Dubai Exiles during the tournament’s opening game on Friday, with many suggesting the tournament crown will go to whichever team can beat the Sri Lankans by the biggest margin in the ensuing two matches of the tournament.
Quins host Kandy at Zayed Sports City tonight before the Sri Lankan side travel to Dubai to take on reigning West Asia and UAE Premiership champions Exiles at The Sevens on Friday.
And McFarlane is concerned by the threat posed by tonight’s dangerous opponents, as well as the lack of respect shown towards them.
“In terms of Kandy, we played over there last year on a tour, they were fantastic hosts and great people,” said McFarlane.
“They are an excellent team and it worries me the disrespect they’re being shown, with people writing them off before they’ve even played and saying the title is between who out of us and Exiles will beat them by the most points.
“That’s disrespectful. They’ve got some good players, they have some big forwards and some incredibly talented sevens lads in the back division.
“They’re going to be hard to contain. With our systems in attack and defence we hope to come out with a positive result.
“We’d never go into any game seeing how many points we could put on a team. It’s about earning that and that will come from sticking to our structures.”
Winning is woven into Quins’ DNA and while McFarlane claims he and his players want to lift the pre-season tournament trophy, his focus is very much on their preparations for the new domestic UAE rugby season. That kicks off with Quins, the reigning Dubai Sevens champions, visiting old foes Dubai Hurricanes in the first round of the West Asia Premiership on September 23.
“It’s about the stage of the season where we’re at,” he added.
“It’s about the performance
rather than the result. But being a big club we always expect a win, winning is a habit and we try to get that ball rolling and we’ve got the tools to do it.
“We’re not used to losing. It’s about lads getting minutes under their belts. We’ll have a few boys playing in different positions so I can have a bit of a look at them.
“It’s about developing things we worked on for Friday and improving so that when the season comes around we’re firing.”
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.”