Mike Phillips wants kids to Just Play and have fun at new Rugby academy in UAE

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Wales and British & Irish Lions legend Mike Phillips is launching a new rugby academy in the UAE.

Phillips, capped 94 times by Wales and five times by the Lions, will launch the new programme in mid-January, initially aimed at three to 11-year-olds.

The former scrum-half has joined forces with Dubai-based Just Play to form the academy and will draw on the expertise of Emlyn Jones, a coach with more than 25 years experience.

Phillips has only been in the UAE for a few months, but is impressed with the growing rugby scene and is looking forward to being part of it.

“I am really looking forward to getting out on the pitch,” he said.

“I have met some of the kids and parents already and everyone’s excited – as I am too. “Rugby has given me a lot of great memories, and lots of great friends and those are the values of rugby really. It’s a unique sport which brings everybody together and we are looking to develop that here and bring a lot of fun and happiness to a lot of kids.”

Despite hanging up his boots earlier this year, Phillips made a shock return for his old club the Scarlets in November to help out during an injury crisis, but is now firmly focused on his new task.

Known for his robust style on the field, the former Ospreys, Blues and Racing Metro man says his coaching philosophy centres around learning and enjoyment.

“It’s just about having fun really,” Phillips said.

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“I want to see kids go out there and express themselves. It’s a great way to stay healthy, make new friends and learn some of the values of rugby that can be so important in a child’s development.

“No matter where in the world you go there is always respect between players and between fans, and it’s great to be part of that. Those are values we will be trying to get across along with trying to help develop the game here in the UAE.”

Phillips says the academy will be all about inclusion – with the girls’ game playing a key part. “In recent years we have seen more females getting involved in the game, not just within the UAE but globally, with a thriving women’s professional game and a growing female development programme. This is great for the future of the sport and something we are very keen to encourage.”

Jones has coached at academies in the UK and is now relishing the chance to work alongside a man he has long admired from the stands.

In particular, he is looking forward to working with an ex-professional who is eager to get his hands dirty. “This is not just about having a name coming in here and fronting up an academy, which has happened in Dubai quite a few times. But Mike really wants to get hands on and involved which is perfect for me,” he said.

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Key for the coaching duo is also being able to give talented individuals the opportunity to progress and enhance their chances of playing at the top level.

“What we want to do is to build pathways for players,” said Jones. “One of the ways rugby can suffer over here is if players want to progress in the game they have to go back to English or southern hemisphere rugby schools, so we lose a lot of good players to different parts of the world.

“We are building links with Racing Metro in Paris, and I have links with Bath Academy in the UK so we want to build a system where our players will have opportunities at other clubs and academies. So they can still be based here but can transfer their skills elsewhere.”

Players looking to join the training sessions can now sign up for the new term which will take place from January 15 to April 27 2018. Participation in the spring term costs Dh1,450 and includes a full rugby kit.

For more information about sessions at Just Play’s Mike Phillips Rugby Academy, call 04 348 3869.

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All-Emirati Al Maha girls team to compete in Asia Rugby U17 Sevens tournament

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The Al Maha team with Fijian rugby great Waisale Serev.

UAE Rugby have announced on Tuesday that their all-Emirati Al Maha girls team will compete in the upcoming 2017 Asia Rugby U17 Sevens Girls Tournament.

The event will take place at Dubai Sports City’s Rugby Park on Wednesday November 29, and Thursday November 30, with the UAE side joining teams from Japan, India, Laos, Kazakhstan, Iran, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, China, Thailand and Malaysia.

UAE have been drawn into Pool B alongside Kazakhstan and Iran.

Fresh from their invaluable experience at the Paris World Games last July, UAE’s Al Maha girls have been focusing on developing their skills under the federation’s RDO manager, Sami Smara, Girls RDO Amira ben Fikh Ali and new RDO recruit Fabian Mark.

Qais Al Dhalai, Secretary General of the UAE Rugby Federation said: “We are incredibly proud of the progress that the UAERF has been through since we hosted the first edition of the tournament in 2016, the tournament is considered as one of the UAERF’s professional and long-term strategic objectives which has now proven to be a milestone for growing and promoting the women’s sport by increasing the number of teams from six (2016) to 12 (2017).

“Participating in tournaments such as the Paris World Games, and the Asia Rugby U17’s provides the Emirati girls with a solid platform to develop their skills and grow their confidence (on the pitch).”

Fijian great Waisale Serevi surprised the team with a special training session.

Fijian great Waisale Serevi surprised the team with a special training session.

“The sport of Rugby is still new to Emirati females and we are encouraged by how they have embraced the game and remain committed to becoming more effective, efficient players.” “These ladies are true pioneers and role models for our sport across the UAE, we congratulate them and wish them a very successful, and rewarding tournament.”

Al Maha were treated to a very special guest at their final training session on Tuesday, November 28, where Fijian-great and rugby-favourite, Waisale Serevi led the girls through various fun, interactive drills.

“I was extremely happy to be invited to spend time with the U17 girls at this training session,” Serevi said. “Sami and his team have done a great job over the past year, from what the girls have shown today.

“The UAE U17 girls playing in this type of tournament is amazing and what we, as a rugby family, need to see and it shows that rugby is growing at the youth level. I am delighted to be a part of growing this game and look forward to seeing these girls represent their country at a higher level in the future.”

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Jebel Ali Dragons have rediscovered confidence and swagger says scrum-half Ross Samson

Matt Jones 30/10/2017
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In action: Samson.

Ross Samson admits it feels like 2013 again at Jebel Ali Dragons as he believes the club have rediscovered the swagger that saw them lift back to back trebles just four seasons ago.

The 29-year-old former Edinburgh and London Irish scrum-half arrived in the Emirates in 2013 and helped Dragons roar to a second straight three trophy haul of UAE Premiership, West Asia Championship and Dubai Sevens.

That 2013/14 feat came on the back of a first treble a year earlier as Dragons dominated domestic rugby. Yet, Dragons have since been sucked into a downward spiral and been forced to watch the rise of Abu Dhabi Harlequins, Dubai Exiles and even Abu Dhabi Saracens.

Things improved when ex-union and league international Henry Paul came on board as head coach last summer. And Dragons showed further signs they might well be back to their best when they beat rivals Dubai Exiles in a thrilling 22-18 encounter at The Sevens earlier this month.

And Samson, one of the few surviving members of that successful double treble-winning squad, is hoping to party like it’s 2013 come the end of 2017/18 campaign.

“I joined Dragons in 2013. That was the third year in a row they’d won everything. I thought ‘this is alright’,” said Samson, who battled Scotland stalwarts Mike Blair and Greig Laidlaw for the number nine jersey during two seasons with his hometown club after joining them from Newcastle Falcons in 2009.

“It was a winning team with a good bunch of boys, really sociable too. We went away from that for a few years. Obviously the UAE is a transient place so boys came and went. I’ve stuck it out and kept my body together and it feels like 2013 again, if not better.

“We’ve got some unbelievable players, like Saki (centre Sakiusa Naisau) and Niko (winger Niko Volavola), guys who pull things out of nowhere.

“Then you add to that some structure, some big lads and English and Welsh lads in the back row, and it feels good again. At training we’re like 40 or 50 guys as opposed to 15 or 20 in previous season and three full teams.

“It creates a really positive vibe and you saw that (against Exiles). Exiles had it a few years ago, Quins had it last season.”

Key man: Saki Naisau.

Samson paid tribute following the Exiles game to Quins stalwart Ben Bolger, forced to retire earlier this month due to repeated concussions.

Captain Samson fulfills a similar leadership role at Dragons, although he described himself as more of a “Marmite” type of character compared to Bolger in the Gulf rugby community.

“I’m a bit of a mouthpiece,” Samson admitted when it was put to him people either love or loathe him.

“I like winding up the opposition, it’s part of the game. There was a bit of love there with Gio (Fourie, Exiles’ former Dragons hooker) who was with us last year. Then there’s Jaen (Botes) their No8, who’s had more clubs than Tiger Woods.

“The refs are a bit Marmite with me too so I’ll have to work on that, but we want to have a bit of fun. We’ve all got jobs. We train and put the effort in, I don’t want to come here after work on a Friday and be treated like a professional.

“It’s a good social. We want to play rugby and express ourselves, have a chat and have some fun scoring tries.”

And cocksure Scotsman Samson said it feels good that Dragons have rediscovered a bit of their swagger.

“It does feel like Dragons have their swagger back, I think so,” said Samson.

“When I speak to boys on a night out, boys want to play for us and hate playing against us. We know we have to be at our best whoever we play because even having been away for a few years, teams want to beat us.

“That’s what we like and a bit of swagger never hurt anyone, as long as you’re also humble at the final whistle and shake hands, it’s all good.”

Samson linked Dragons’ turnaround to Paul’s arrival. And even though Dragons were vastly improved in 2016/17, he feels they have improved again over the summer.

“Last season we would have lost this game,” Samson said of their most recent win, earned after an initial last-gasp try awarded to Exiles scrum-half Carel Thomas was overturned by the touch judge who deemed he had knocked on after a last-ditch Naisau tackle.

Dragons lost in similar circumstances to Quins on the opening day, a converted try beyond 80 minutes giving them a 34-33 win – a result that echoed the scoreline in the same fixture last season. And Samson believes holding on for victory against Exiles is significant.

“It was heartbreak against Quins and now we hang on and see the game out. We pushed Quins to within a point in the first game and today we wanted to play well in the local derby, we won and scored some nice tries, and closed the game out.

“And I think that’s what HP has brought, confidence and structure. I think the structures are in place. The boys have massive respect for HP so buy into it. It’s a bit easier when he’s been there and done it. Last year was a learning curve. We got better slowly but surely and each game.”

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