Jebel Ali Dragons are among the first clubs to start planning for next season by announcing Henry Paul as the club’s new director of rugby, while Stuart Quinn is the new chairman.
Former New Zealand rugby league and England union international Paul, 43, arrived at Dragons last summer as head coach, an impressive coup pulled off by outgoing director of rugby, Paul Hart.
Along with Jonny MacDonald and Andy Buist, the ex-Wigan Warriors and Bradford Bulls player revived the sleeping Dragons, who ended the season fighting Abu Dhabi Harlequins for the UAE Premiership title.
It was the beginning of a new chapter for the Jebel Ali outfit who had endured two seasons of struggle since winning back-to- back trebles in 2012/13 and 2013/14.
Dragons finished fourth in the West Asia Premiership this past season and finished runners-up to Quins in both the Premiership and Dubai
Sevens to signal their revival – while their third team won the Community League.
“We have asked Henry to now take on a role as director of rugby as we look to try and bring through our other coaches Jonny MacDonald and
Andy Buist and successfully recruit players but also to try and raise the level of the club again,” said 37-year- old Quinn, who will replace long-
serving Welshman Mike Lewis as Dragons’ chairman.
“His role on the committee will be invaluable to us in terms of taking the next step as a club. Henry will still be very much involved in coaching
the side but he will start to add his experience in other areas.
“His impact as a leader this year can be defined no better by the fact we have eight players (the most of any club) representing the UAE in Maylasia (at the Asia Rugby Championship) this week.”
Briton Quinn, a former UAE international who represented the Emirates in the 2011 Asian Five Nations, their first tournament as a stand alone
Test nation, heaped praise on Lewis and Hart, both of whom will remain part of the club’s fabric.
“It’s an incredible honour to have been chosen as chairman for the forthcoming season,” said Quinn, who has lived in the UAE for 14 years.
“Mike Lewis has done a fantastic job steering the club through some choppy waters and deserves a huge amount of credit along with Paul Hart for bringing Henry Paul to us and for being part of a turnaround at the club last year.
“Three finals and a trophy is a great achievement from where the club was two years ago having lost such a core group of players. I think the
roles of Henry and myself are to take that one step further next year and build on some great foundations.”
Dragons will celebrate 25 years as a club in 2017/18 and despite definite progression with Paul at the helm, Quinn says more strides need to be
taking and he is excited for the future.
“In terms of next season I think it’s going to be tougher than ever due to the fact that the landscape of rugby in the Gulf has changed
dramatically in such a short space of time,” added the former Dragons and Dubai Exiles player.
“The players are of such a high standard across the board now and the coaching set-ups are superbly organised and there really isn’t a huge gap
between the top and bottom teams.
“Our job in the off-season is to look at recruiting more players as people move on and out of the rugby scene but also to try to build a club that
can offer something for all levels and be able to support that administratively as well as on the field.
“Player welfare is more important than ever these days. We also want to work with the other clubs to continue to raise the standard of rugby
here in the Middle East. For the good of rugby I think it’s vital we all work closer together.
“This year marks Jebel Ali Dragons’ 25 years as a club in the Gulf so we have a lot planned on and off the field which is great to look forward to. We have recently rebranded our logo, are launching a new website and had a new club house built for us which is all exciting stuff.
“We have again been supported by Hesco, our title sponsor, who have committed to the club long term. It’s vital for any club’s survival that
companies continue to support rugby in the region and we are incredibly thankful for that.
“The season will be upon us in no time no doubt so we will have a busy summer getting ourselves in shape for when it all starts again.”
Daniel Perry insists he is not crestfallen by the UAE’s opening loss in the 2017 Asia Rugby Championship and says he and his teammates need only look to conquerors Malaysia for inspiration on how Division I championship can still be theirs.
The UAE put in a spirited performance in Ipoh on Sunday only to be beaten by a Jone Mosalo-inspired Malaysia who ran out 36-22 winners.
The margin of defeat was harsh on Apollo Perelini’s men – a late Sakiusa Gavidi try giving the final scoreline a flattering hue as far as Lee Nyuk Fah’s hosts were concerned.
A year ago, however, Malaysia were in the same position as the men from the Emirates – beaten 15-10 by the Philippines in Kuala Lumpur.
Yet they rallied to defeat Sri Lanka and Singapore in their next two games to finish top of the Division I table with 11 points, two ahead of the Brave Elephants.
And vice captain Perry is adamant all is not lost.
“Malaysia won the whole thing last year and lost their first game, so we’re certainly not out of it yet,” stated Perry defiantly.
“Let’s see how we go from here. The lads are still going, still positive, and it’s onto the next one.”
Next up for Perry and Co are Sri Lanka – the division’s top ranked team at number 39 in the world.
The UAE are the lowest ranked of all four teams taking part in Division I this year, but Perry is steadfast in his belief that they showed enough signs in defeat to still win a second straight title after storming to the Division II crown a year ago.
“We can take positives from the game, the scrum went well and the lineouts were OK,” added the Dubai Hurricanes’ lock.
“They (Malaysia) didn’t create anything, we gave it to them so we have got things to improve on and that’s good.
“We’re going to watch it back, but we’re not going to blame anyone else. The heat was bad and the ref was up and down but at the end of the day it was our mistakes that cost us and we’re very aware of that.”
The UAE’s historic three-match unbeaten run came to an end as they were defeated by hosts Malaysia in a pulsating opening 2017 Asia Rugby Championship Division I encounter that could have swung either way.
Camped deep in Malaysia territory, trailing by seven having just fought their way back into the game through Kris Greene’s try, the game’s turning point arrived 10 minutes from time when Apollo Perelini’s men were penalised at their own scrum five metres out where a tying score had looked inevitable.
Instead, the under siege hosts cleared their lines and put the game to bed a few minutes later when UAE torturer Jone Nasalo rampaged his way into space and put centre partner Sakiusa Gavidi in for the game-clinching try.
It was a victory that Lee Nyuk Fah’s deserved overall, although the 14-point margin of it flattered his side.
UAE head coach Perelini admitted Malaysia played well, but thought his team could have been better.
“It was a frustrating game. There were some areas in which we could have been a little bit better,” said the New Zealander.
“It was very humid out there, it was unbelievable, but it was the same for both teams. The ball was like soap. We didn’t adapt to the conditions as well as we could have. There were a lot of mistakes, a lot of dropped balls. They scored some tries against the run of play and off minute mistakes, which cost us.
“But the boys stayed positive and knew they could claw their way back. I think overall the game got away from us too early. When you sit two tries behind in the first half it’s always going to be difficult, especially with the conditions and when you start pushing things.
“You make more mistakes and they had their tails up. They played well and I think we could have played better. We’re very disappointed. I’m gutted.
“I’m not one for relying on others to do the job for us, I really wanted to come here and do well in all three games, so it was disappointing. But the boys worked hard and were unlucky.”
It is a game the UAE will look back and reflect on what might have been, with the contest littered by handling errors and mistakes which were fully exploited by Malaysia and man of the match Nasalo in-particular.
The monstrous outside centre opened the scoring after 15 minutes when he chipped ahead in his own 22 and received a kind bounce of the ball to beat Sean Carey and streak home despite the attention of Greene.
Perelini’s charges’ response was instant though. Jebel Ali Dragons’ Ryno Fourie, on as an early replacement for injured clubmate Dan Bell, alerted Andrew Powell to a quick lineout. The Dubai Hurricanes man sprinted 70 metres and found the supporting Fourie alongside him when the cover came – the South African replacement touching down and Luke Stevenson leveling the scores.
They had a lucky escape when Ben Bolger’s dropped pass sent Malaysia clear but bad hands from the hosts allowed the defence to scramble and avert danger.
However, they did not heed that warning and after another error, Nasalo was alert to gather and dash clear to the line. There was another lucky escape when Dave Knight avoided a sin-bin for taking out Mohammedd Abdin after chipping ahead, Mohammed Fairuz bisected the posts to minimise the punishment and Stevenson’s own penalty saw the UAE trail just 17-10 at the break.
Their hard work to get back in the contest was undone minutes into the second period though when Nasalo, the thorn in their side, completed his hat-trick.
A cross-field kick from Mohammed Asraf was collected by winger Wong Wye who made ground before offloading to Nasalo who outpaced the last man to seal a memorable treble. A superb conversion from Fairuz stretched the lead to 24-10.
The UAE would not lie down though and after Asraf was sin-binned for a high tackle on Rikus Swart, who had looked destined to score after darting for the corner, his Abu Dhabi Saracens teammate Jaen Botes powered over from the resulting scrum, Stevenson narrowly wide with a difficult touchline conversion.
Back came the hosts with a bonus point score, Wye fighting his way to the line and touching down despite a desperate attempt by Dan Perry to stop him.
Just as they began to believe they would pull clear again, back came the pesky UAE to really make a fist of proceedings. Botes was again instrumental as he peeled off the scrum and put scrum-half Greene in for a deserved try.
Stevenson this time nailed a brilliant conversion out wide and the UAE began to sense the game was theirs for the taking.
They received the ball straight back as Singaporean referee Just Wang awarded a penalty for a late hit on Green after scoring and Perelini’s players swarmed forward.
Their handling was slick as they switched the ball from forwards to backs and went through the phases. Malaysia’s defence was creaking but just as the UAE look poised to strike from a five metre scrum, they were penalised and Malaysia’s relief was clear.
The ebb and flow to the game failed to yield but Fah’s men landed the killer blow, predictably, through Nasalo. His step sent him into the clear and when the last tackle came he calmly fed Gavidi who swan dived over for the crucial score.