Jebel Ali Dragons coach Henry Paul reconnects with friend Kingsley Jones to help out Canada

Matt Jones 11/02/2018
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Henry Paul has been Jebel Ali Dragons head coach since July 2016.

As a player, he represented England in several Six Nations tournaments – now Henry Paul is coaching in a tournament dubbed the ‘Americas Six Nations’.

New Zealander Paul played international rugby league for the country of his birth and rugby union for the Red Rose, having qualified via a grandfather born in Liverpool as well as England being where he spent the majority of his playing career – in league with Wigan Warriors and the Bradford Bulls and in union with Gloucester.

The 44-year-old now lives in the UAE where he is head coach of Jebel Ali Dragons and director of rugby at Kings Al Barsha School in Dubai.

Right now though he’s in America, helping to coach Canada in the America’s Rugby Championship (ARC), having been drafted in by good friend and former Wales international Kingsley Jones, who was appointed Canada’s head coach in September.

The 2018 Americas Rugby Championship is in its third edition, and features Canada and the United States as well as South American countries Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and an Argentina XV side, the Pumas’ secondary national team.

Paul and Jones – who earned 10 Welsh caps between 1996-98 before injury curtailed his international career – worked together at Russia, with the duo steering the Bears to their maiden Rugby World Cup appearance in 2011.

“Kingsley has been Canada coach since September last year so he’s new to the role,” said Paul, speaking ahead of the Canucks’ second 2018 ARC game against the US on Saturday.

“I have been asked to assist Canada in the Americas Rugby Championship. I’m assisting Kingsley for the next four games v the US, Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

“We work well together and have always bounced ideas off each other. He asked if I was available, I asked the school about the possibility and they were 100 percent ‘go for it’.

Former Wales international Kingsley Jones and Paul took Russia to the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

“They’ve been in camp four weeks already so needed a new coach for the next four weeks. I worked with Kingsley during my time with Russia and he put my name forward to be their sevens head coach back in 2012.

“I’ve only been in camp a few days but the players and management have been very welcoming. There is a lot of young talent so it’s an exciting role but it will be tricky for us.”

Canada lost Saturday’s game 29-10 to the US in Sacramento, California, making it two defeats to start the ARC following a loss against Uruguay in their opener on January 27.

Former Wales international Kingsley Jones and Paul took Russia to the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

That 38-29 defeat came at their home of BC Place in Vancouver, home of the MLS team the Vancouver Whitecaps and the BC Lions of the Canadian Football league.

It also served as the first leg of the 2019 Rugby World Cup qualification for the Americas’ region. Canada lost the second leg 32-31 a week later as Uruguay progressed to Japan, although Canada will have one final chance to earn a spot at a round robin Repechage tournament in November.

In the ARC, meanwhile, Canada have three games remaining and Jones and Paul will hope to finish with a flourish as they host Brazil in their next game at Westhills Stadium in Langford, British Columbia, on Saturday.

They close the tournament with two road games, taking on Argentina in Jujuy on February 24 and Chile in La Serena on March 3.

As well as boosting his coaching repertoire, Paul insists Kings and Dragons are both behind him, even though it means being away from his coaching duties in the Emirates.

Paul will be back to take charge of Dragons in what could be a crucial game at Bahrain in the West Asia Premiership’s final round of fixtures on March 9.

Paul making his England debut against France in the 2002 Six Nations.

Paul added: “It is an honour and privilege to represent Canada and gives me great experience, as well as for Kings Al Barsha where I’m director of rugby and for Dragons leading into the business end of the season, when I’m back before the Bahrain game.

“It is also a great chance for Andy Buist and Jonny MacDonald to develop their own coaching experience while I’m away as they lead the boys against Dubai Eagles, Abu Dhabi Saracens and Dubai Hurricanes.

“I’m fortunate the principal at Kings sees the value in what I would gain from this for the benefit of the schools’ rugby programme and also the Dragons, especially our club sponsors Hesco, who were made up for me as it’s an honour for the club I’m here.”

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New UAE Rugby's Premiership Cup mired in controversy

Matt Jones 9/02/2018
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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.”

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Dubai Exiles rift with Jebel Ali Dragons over forfeiting of UAE Premiership Cup semi-final

Matt Jones 7/02/2018
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Despite securing the easiest passage possible through to the final of the UAE Premiership Cup next month, Dubai Exiles are far from happy.

Exiles will play the winner of the semi-final between Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Dubai Hurricanes at The Sevens on Friday night.

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.

Dragons skipper Ross Samson

Dragons skipper Ross Samson

“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.”

Exiles chairman Mike Wolff (r)

Exiles chairman Mike Wolff (r)

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.”

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