Abu Dhabi Saracens have lost their last two games by a combined margin of 10 points but the men who play in the shadow of Abu Dhabi International Airport hope their season belatedly takes off tomorrow.
They welcome new-look Bahrain to Al Ghazal and their captain Jaen Botes admits it’s been a hugely frustrating start to the 2016/17 campaign.
They had an opening day 45-3 victory against Al Ain Amblers reduced to a forfeit after Amblers fielded two underage players – a result that was later wiped out completely when the Garden City side withdrew from competition.
They then lost heavily in Doha before battling to 20-13 and 10-7 defeats to Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Jebel Ali Dragons in their last two encounters.
But UAE international Botes says he and his team-mates can’t wait for tomorrow’s game.
“It’s been a tough start for us… it’s quite frustrating as we had a very good preseason,” said the burly Botes.
“We know Bahrain will come and play a very organised game, they have done some recruiting over the last year and we’re fairly aware that they will be good in set piece and open play.
“For us it’s about obtaining that first win and getting things off to a good start. We were disappointed in last week’s performance against Dragons, a game there for the taking but no excuses, we are working hard and looking forward to Friday.
“We have a strong team and a team I’m sure Winnie (coach Winston Cowie) would expect will take on Bahrain with full force. It should be a good game and I just hope we pitch up for the occasion.”
Bahrain coach Loui Tonkin is looking forward to his first trip to Abu Dhabi and is buoyed by a return of several players from injury, including influential skipper Adam Wallace.
“It’s a big game this weekend and we’re looking forward to coming to Abu Dhabi for the first time,” said the Welshman.
“We’ve got a decent side, a few boys coming back from injury, including Adam Wallace our captain. I think we’ll be able to put our strongest side out this season so that’s good.
“We know how hard it’s going to be, we know how strong they are up front, we know it’s going to be a huge challenge, and we’ll have to play extremely well to go there and win.
“Having said that we’re really excited. We’ve had a few good weeks and we’re in a pretty good place. Hopefully we’ll put in a good performance and the result will look after itself.”
More than 3,000 students from 15 schools across two Emirates are expected to participate in the programme which encourages involvement in the sport and provides advice on how to lead a healthy and active lifestyle.
Every year, schools across the UAE are invited to participate in the programme which was launched to create a legacy from the Sevens.
The specially designed programme motivates children to get involved in rugby, promote active lifestyles, encourage healthy living and learn about the various nations participating at this year’s event, which is all implemented through a range of academic and sporting activities at each school.
Donal Kilalea, the tournament’s commercial and operations manager, said: “Every year we endeavour to create awareness of the game at the grassroots level in a fun and engaging manner.
“We would like to help children understand the importance of sports and a healthy lifestyle as well as create a sense of belonging by learning about the different nations taking part at this year’s event.”
Sevens organisers, meanwhile, are encouraging ticket purchase in advance which will save tournament-goers money.
Taking place from December 1-3 at The Sevens Stadium, excited fans can purchase their tickets online at www.dubairugby7s.com or at Emirates Group Headquarters, dnata Travel Stores, Go Sport and Park n Shop.
The 35-year-old Welshman has been a focal point of both Quins and the UAE national team for nearly 10 years living in the Emirates, and he claims he won’t retire while the passion to play continues to burn bright.
The Quins prop admits the Zayed Sports City-based club is in his blood and that there’s plenty of life left in him, especially after returning to a now more competitive Quins line-up than ever at the start of the new season.
“I had an injury in January that ended my season so I’m trying to make up for lost time and play as many games as I can this season, and then I’ll make a call on my future at the end of the season,” said the veteran forward.
“I’m still enjoying it though. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. I think the moment you’re not disappointed to be dropped or the moment you miss a weekend and don’t feel disappointed that’s the moment to retire, and I don’t feel ready at the moment.
“When that happens (not picked) I’m gutted so I’m still keen to be involved. We’ve got a great squad, lots of depth. The second team and baa baas are pushing the guys wearing the first team jersey so we’re a really healthy club at the moment. There’s still life in the old dog yet.”
Expat life in the UAE is a transient existence so Jones-Griffiths’ near decade-long existence at Quins make him quite the anomoly.
And he spoke of his fondness for the club which has become his family as he approaches 10 years with Quins.
“The club is very much in me,” added a man who is the UAE’s most-capped player ever with 23 appearances. “I’ve been here a while, I’m going into my ninth season. It’s a big part of me. When you’re an expat and you move to different parts of the world and a rugby player in particular, the rugby club becomes your family.
“It’s been a huge part of my world. My son’s signed up to the Under-5s this year so the next generation is coming through too. He’s half English, half Welsh but I’ll be pushing for Wales. But he was born in the UAE too so they’ll be second choice.”
Quins have long been at the forefront of success in domestic UAE rugby, although they were overshadowed by Dubai Exiles in 2015/16 as they announced their re-emergence by winning both the West Asia Championship and UAE Premiership.
It put Quins’ defence of the Gulf Men’s League title at the 2015 Dubai Rugby Sevens somewhat in the shade, and Jones-Griffiths admits his desire to keep playing is intertwined with wanting to help Quins drop last season’s bridesmaids tag.
“Last season was disappointing but we’ve been there before, we were bridesmaids to Dragons twice, but it does hurt, especially when you put in the hard yards all season,” he said. “We’re moving into the rest of the season very confident so we’ll see what happens.”