An ethics row has erupted after Abu Dhabi Harlequins accused Dubai Exiles of loading a second team fixture with first team players.
The spat was initially sparked on social media yesterday between members of the rival clubs – as well as others – following Exiles 2nds 34-5 victory over Quins 2nds on Friday night.
A number of first team players featured in Exiles’ win at Zayed Sports City – including the likes of powerhouse South African hooker Gio Fourie, former England Under-18 international centre James Crossley and flanker Matt Mills – with the West Asia Premiership on a bye weekend.
Quins say as many as nine senior Exiles stars were dropped into the second team for the game, with the club’s assistant coaches Rory Greene and Ali Thompson entering into a Twitter war of words with Exiles chairman Mike Wolff – and the ploy labeled “ethically wrong”.
Other clubs and players became embroiled in the argument, with suggestions put forward that the practice – completely legal as far as UAE Rugby’s rules and regulations are concerned – should be reviewed by the game’s governing body in the Emirates.
“They’re messing about with the rules and regulations,” said Quins chairman Andy Cole.
“They’re not breaking any rules but it’s down to morality, if it happened in our club I wouldn’t be very happy as I just don’t think it’s right.
“We could have done the same obviously but it’s not what we’re about. I guess it’s why we’re the only club to have four teams in the leagues this season. But they haven’t broken any rules.”
Your response is great @mikewolff1967 – as long as rules are not broken ethics are irrelevant! Great attitude 🙈Enjoy the rest of the season!
— Rory Greene (@roryUAE) October 7, 2017
Cole said teams are experimenting in the early weeks of the season with the arrival of new players over the summer as they work out new systems. And he feels it is actually a compliment to Quins’ second team who are the reigning UAE Conference champions.
“Until you’ve played a number of games you don’t really have first and second team players so you can move them about,” added Cole.
“It’s a difficult one because you have new players coming in during the summer you might not know if he’s a first or second team player. But you’ve got a good idea.
“It comes down to how badly you want to win, but our club’s not about that. We could also take it as a compliment too. The fact they have to stack the second team high to win, it’s a compliment to our second team boys.”
Article 9 of the UAE Rugby Federation’s competition regulations addresses the issue of senior players featuring in lower divisions. The only requirement clubs must adhere to is that for any first team player to qualify for a second team final, they must have started five or more matches for the second team.
Exiles chairman Wolff responded by saying he found it “laughable” that Quins were upset by a ploy he claimed they utilised to their advantage against Exiles on the way to the Conference title last season.
Exiles beat Quins 41-5 on the opening weekend of the Conference season last term, with Quins gaining revenge with a 51-3 victory in the Top 6 stage in February.
And Wolff says on that day, several Quins first team stars featured in victory after being refused visas to travel with the senior squad to play Doha.
“I find it laughable the Twitter spat, it’s hypocrisy as last year a number of players couldn’t go to Doha so a number of southern hemisphere players ended up playing against our twos and we got pumped,” said Wolff.
“But we didn’t squawk about it. It’s in the rules and we sucked it up.
“I’m a firm believer of operating within the rules. Some people have said it’s against the ethics. Send me that code of ethics because to my mind we have the rules and regulations which were on the agenda post-season two years ago, which lay everything out clearly, and were agreed by all the clubs and it’s what we’ve got.
“It’s much ado about nothing. I find it hypocritical when it works in their favour one year.”
Wolff added that several alleged first team players who featured in the capital on Friday are short on match fitness while revealing the second team had to call on first team colleagues with 12 absences.
“We had 12 players unavailable through injury, work or compassionate reasons,” said Wolff.
“A chunk of them were second players. Players like Stephen Ferguson are first-team players but he’s had his arm in a sling for three weeks because he had an operation to remove an abscess on his arm. He’s not played a single game this season yet.
“We had some players playing in different positions too to see if they could play as emergency cover in those positions.”