Dubai Hurricanes coach Mike Wernham believes the new UAE Premiership Cup competition would have been more appealing had it been styled on football’s famed FA Cup, where elite and lower league teams are pitted against one another and upsets are possible.
The competition – debuted this season by the UAE Rugby Federation – has been dogged by controversy so far, with only one of the four ties having gone ahead successfully.
That was Canes’ victory over Abu Dhabi Saracens in early December. Dubai Exiles were given a bye at what was essentially the quarter-final stage – Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Jebel Ali Dragons were given byes to the semi-finals for finishing first and second in the UAE Premiership last season – when Dubai Eagles forfeited.
Exiles were given another bye this week – to the final – when Dragons opted out of their fixture, supposed to be played Friday, at the start of the week, much to the annoyance of Exiles.
Quins and Canes, scheduled to play on Friday, will now count the cup game as a double header when they face each other in the West Asia Premiership next Friday.
And Wernham feels the competition should have been opened up to UAE Conference teams in a bid to gauge more interest and give smaller sides the opportunity to cause a giant-killing.
“My suggestion at the AGM was a tournament for both Conference and Premiership, like the FA Cup,” said Wernham.
“Unfortunately, this wasn’t taken and it was only made a Premiership thing which wasn’t really needed. We train so hard and so long we just need more teams to step up and having an FA Cup-style tournament might lead to a few shocks which might give teams in Conference the confidence to go for it.
“Even our second team versus first team games can be incredibly competitive which would be a great opportunity for a lot of guys in house to put their hands up in a real competitive setting.”
Dragons bemoaned an unnecessary glut of trophies to play for, with the club stating their priorities are the West Asia Premiership, UAE Premiership and West Asia Cup.
And Quins coach Mike McFarlane feels the troubled debut for the competition bodes badly for its future.
He said: “I like cup competition. Especially in such a competitive league and it gives all teams who may be having a tough season to win something.
“However, it doesn’t help if forfeits see a team go all the way to the final on byes. It loses its value and significance as winning a trophy.”
Despite securing the easiest passage possible through to the final of the UAE Premiership Cup next month, Dubai Exiles are far from happy.
The UAE Rugby Federation sanctioned more games for clubs following discussions last summer in a bid to provide more competition and regular rugby. But Exiles are annoyed at having received byes to the final after Abu Dhabi Saracens initially forfeited their quarter-final fixture in December, while Friday’s scheduled semi-final was forfeited this week by Jebel Ali Dragons.
“It’s out there and clubs have said yes to playing in it. If the UAE RF have said we’re playing, we should, so I’m disappointed with Dragons,” said Exiles chairman Mike Wolff.
“Their squad is twice the size of ours. If it’s for strong medical reasons, we appreciate that, but it’s not the argument that’s being made. It just seems it wasn’t in their plans and they’re choosing to set their focus elsewhere.
“Sarries forfeited against us, then Dragons forfeited, so we’re through to the final.”
Despite the criticism, Dragons hit back by claiming they knew little about the competition, making its debut on the UAE rugby calendar this season, and which they say wasn’t included on the original set of fixtures issued to clubs – even though it was on the official list circulated by the UAE RF to media in late August.
“We’re not very happy with the inclusion of this cup without much explanation of why it’s included when we have the West Asia Premiership to play for, as well as the West Asia Cup and finally the UAE Premiership, which means there are three quality competitions,” said Dragons head coach Henry Paul.
“We think that is what was on offer at the start of the season and we’ll be doing our best to win these three.”
Dragons skipper Ross Samson added: “Boys make plans from the original set of fixtures we were given at the start of the year as we all have lives outside of rugby and this cup wasn’t in our plans until it’s recent announcement.
“I hate the idea of forfeiting anything as I’m extremely competitive but we need to know about these competitions earlier. We wish the teams the best of luck in the upcoming games.”
Dragons also said they offered Exiles the chance to combine the cup game with their West Asia Premiership fixture last weekend – Exiles won 35-15 to open up the title race – but that their opponents declined.
“We offered Exiles a double header last week and they turned it down so we gave them a bye,” added Samson.
“It’s basically a cup that we had no idea existed, we were given a bye (in December), asked Exiles if they wanted to do a double header to save playing twice, they didn’t want to so we gave them a bye to the final,” added Dragons chairman Stuart Quinn.
“It’s a completely unnecessary cup made up to fill time. Now there’s the West Asia Premiership, West Asia Cup, the UAE Premiership and this competition. There’s four cups for seven teams. That’s more cups that the Premiership and the Super 15 combined, it’s nonsense.”
But Wolff refuted suggestions a sixth trophy – there is also the Dubai Sevens title as well as the lesser established Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League – devalues the competition.
“The cup is designed to give a small Premiership of six teams some more games,” he said.
“It’s always good when top teams are playing each other regardless of the competition or format. It’s not devaluing it, it’s a good idea from the UAE RF when we say we don’t have enough games to play.
“On a broader note I think there’s issues with teams forfeiting, we’ve had five matches postponed across our first and second teams. You don’t get exposure if you’re not playing games, and it’s a risk with sponsors we don’t want to take.”
UAE Rugby player profile:
Height: 6’ / 182cm
Weight: 14st / 88.9kg
Birthplace: Cork, Ireland
Years in UAE: Five months
Honours: Munster Rugby U18s and sevens. Cayman Islands international 15s and 7s
Favourite childhood memory of rugby: I have been fortunate enough to have played in teams that won the Munster Junior Cup and Munster Senior Cup, however, on both occasions my dad presented the trophies and medals to the team as he was involved in the Munster branch at the time
Favourite player growing up: Simon Geoghegan, was the most exciting Irish back I can remember growing up. Pretty sure he was born in England, but I guess I’m willing to overlook that fact
Rugby team you support: Ireland/Munster
Best international at the moment and why: Hard to look past Beauden Barrett at the minute, probably the best 10 in the world right now, and the perfect replacement for Dan Carter
Rule you would change and why: I think that the new rules which have been introduced this season are very good for the game and they will favor attacking rugby and therefore make it more enjoyable to watch. I would, however, like to see the introduction of more free-kicks instead of penalties for certain infringements
Best game you ever saw: Munster winning Heineken Cup finals in Cardiff is up there with the most enjoyable games I’ve seen
Toughest opponent in UAE (team or player): I haven’t been here long, but Jebel Ali Dragons are a great team, and also seem like a decent bunch of lads
Funniest/most embarrassing moment in your career: I once injured myself by running into a scrum machine at training
Greatest achievement in any sport: Captaining Cayman Islands National 7s team in the North American Caribbean Rugby Championship
If you could be a professional in any other sport what it would be and why? Golf. Less chance of injuries and longer careers
Favourite meal: If I could just eat chocolate and natural confectionery jellies all day that would keep me pretty happy
Favourite place in the UAE: Just moved into the Marina, really like that area