Some would see a lone fixture prior to the Christmas holidays as a hindrance, but several Dubai Eagles players have rearranged flights due to the excitement surrounding the first proper away fixture since forming as a club.
Eagles will hope to soar when they head west for a clash with Louie Tonkin’s high-flying Bahrain on Friday, who are second in the West Asia Premiership after four games, only on points difference behind Jebel Ali Dragons.
Of Eagles’ four games this season, three have been at their Dubai Sports City home, with their sole away fixture a sound 68-0 beating at Dragons.
They are now venturing a little further as the WAP returns, haphazardly, for just one game following the rugby season’s brief hiatus for the Dubai Sevens – although there will then be another month gap before the season resumes in mid-January.
Away games, especially involving flights, can leave teams depleted in the Gulf, especially in the run-up to Christmas, but Eagles captain Conor Coakley insists the club is excited about heading to Bahrain.
“We’re actually looking alright for numbers, only a few have gone home for the holidays at this stage. Some boys have actually rearranged their flights around the game, which is great,” said the Irishman.
“It’s a good day out for an away game at Bahrain, a fantastic club, great crowd, and it’s a first real away day with the Eagles, so everyone is putting their hand up. We’ve trained well since the Sevens, we’re regrouped and focused on this week, and we’re all up for it.”
Tonkin’s side haven’t played a game of 15s rugby in well over a month, while their last home game in the WAP was as long ago as September 29 – the 15-15 draw with Abu Dhabi Harlequins. And he hopes his side can sign off for the year in style.
“It’s been ages since we played a game of 15s, while it’s our first home Premiership game in over two months, so it’s been a huge lay-off and we’re excited,” said the Welshman.
“All the players had the fixture list in September so they all booked their flights around this game so we’re OK regarding holidays. We still have a few injuries with Greg Heath, Luke Radley and Rich Muncaster all unavailable.
“We’re looking forward to welcoming Eagles to Bahrain and hopefully we’ll have a big crowd to give us a good send-off for 2017.”
Elsewhere, the Abu Dhabi derby sees Saracens hosting Harlequins back at their spiritual home of Al Ghazal, after a deal was struck by a Korean company who previously ran the golf club’s restaurant to take over the lease.
It means Sarries are back home after being evicted in the summer. Despite the good news, there is a touch of sadness to it, with chairman Jay Danielson relinquishing his role as he is heading back to his native Australia today after a decade in the desert.
“We’re back there tomorrow, but I’ll miss the game as I’m flying home,” said the Melbourne native.
“But the club has come to an agreement with the new company so that’s fantastic.
“It’s been very much playing on our minds not having a home this season. It’s been a fortress for us in previous years, but it’ll be a funny homecoming as we have a lot of new players, who’ve not actually played at our spiritual home.”
It’s been a rough start to the season on the pitch for Sarries, bottom of the table following four defeats, while the suffered an 81-0 hiding in the UAE Premiership Cup quarter-finals at the hands of Dubai Hurricanes last week.
Despite this, Quins coach Mike McFarlane knows his side face opponents that always raise their game for the capital city derby.
“It’s always a fierce game and a nice touch we are back at Al Ghazal where the Sarries were so successful, so it has all the ingredients for a great derby clash for the ‘Capital Cup’,” said McFarlane.
“It’s good to get back to 15s albeit a one-off game as such before the Christmas break. We are missing numerous players but it gives players a great opportunity to step up in a high profile derby clash.”
Canes host Dragons in a Dubai derby at The Sevens. And skipper Ross Samson says Dragons have a full squad looking to cement their grip on top spot going into the festive break.
“We’re not struggling for numbers, everyone’s roaring and we want to keep the momentum up,” said the scrum-half.
“If we can get a win here it’s all to play for after Christmas and we’re in a nice position.
“We’ve got a full squad. We know they have a decent squad, had a good run at the Sevens and are confident so we’re not taking it lightly. It’s a local derby too. We’re looking forward to it and we know we have to be at our best.”
Canes are fresh from an 81-0 mauling of Sarries in the UAE Premiership Cup last week, and even though head coach Mike Wernham’s side will be buoyed by that, he says it’s a difficult time of year.
“With schools breaking up it’s a difficult time of year to be at full strength, although we still have a strong team out,” he said.
“The Sarries game gave us a chance to try other players and units out, which worked really well. The 81 points was pleasing but the 0 even more so.
“Our defence has been pleasing and it’s going to be under more pressure as we face arguably the strongest side, sitting at the top of the league, so we’re under no illusions we’re in for a tough night.”
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.
“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.
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.
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).”
“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.”