Mike McFarlane urges Abu Dhabi Harlequins to rise to tough challenge in 2018/19

Matt Jones 6/09/2018
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Mike McFarlane (r) celebrates with brothers Sam and Ben Bolger (l) after winning the UAE Premiership, their fifth and final trophy of 2016/17.

Mike McFarlane has challenged his players to channel the famed Abu Dhabi Harlequins spirit as they battle to stay relative in what their head coach has described as a “rebuilding year”.

Quins claimed all five major trophies two seasons ago – West Asia Premiership, Dubai Sevens, UAE Premiership, West Asia Cup and Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League – for an unprecedented feat in domestic UAE rugby.

But financial woes and player departures were met with renewed efforts from rivals which resulted in a fiercely competitive 2017/18.

Success will only be more arduous to come by this year, but McFarlane feels the ‘one club’ ethos he has instilled at the club during his tenure will fire his squad for the journey ahead.

“Every year is a fresh start,” said McFarlane ahead of Friday’s visit of Sri Lankans Kandy in the second fixture of this season’s curtain-raising Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League tournament.

“We’re really looking forward to it but we have suffered over the summer with a large number of players leaving.”

Mike McFarlane has overseen a revolution since taking over at Quins.

Mike McFarlane has overseen a revolution since taking over at Quins.

Quins actually found themselves in a transitional period during 2017/18 following a dominant three-year spell in which silverware was hoovered up with regularity – 10 out of 19 trophies available over the last four years were hoisted by Quins, the majority of them under McFarlane’s guidance.

That included 2016/17’s marvelous quintuple, as well as three-straight Dubai Sevens titles from 2015-17.

They suffered troubles off the field even before last season began with the ending of a three-year sponsorship deal with Etihad was not followed up with a renewal.

There were also several high-profile player departures and the loss of influential skipper Ben Bolger to forced retirement through concussion.

Despite all this, they remained fiercely competitive on the field as they, Jebel Ali Dragons, Bahrain and Dubai Exiles contested and shared the major honours.

Quins retained the Champions League title and added the inaugural UAE Premiership Cup but the major titles avoided them.

They lost the West Asia Premiership crown thanks to last day heroics from Dragons in Bahrain – a 36-32 bonus point win earning them the title.

Bahrain beat Dubai Exiles in the West Asia Cup final, Exiles beat Dragons in the Dubai Sevens final and Quins lost the final game of the season and their grip on the UAE Premiership as they were dropped by Exiles.

McFarlane believes it could be “mission impossible” for his depleted squad to fight on all fronts once again this term – but he has urged Quins to step up to the plate.

“It’s two seasons in a row now we have lost large player numbers, which brings another rebuilding year with little depth yet lots of challenges,” he added.

“It seems mission impossible this year with the Dubai teams and Bahrain recruiting so heavily and us being decimated.

“However this is why I built the club on culture. It’s just hard with everyone’s high expectations which they take for granted. Last year was an incredible feat given losing a whole team.”

Last summer brought the devastating news that Bolger – McFarlane’s on-field general and Quins’ talisman – was forced to call it a day after repeated concussions.

Brian Geraghty was one of three big stars to leave Quins 12 months ago.

Brian Geraghty was one of three big stars to leave Quins 12 months ago.

Key figures Patrick Jenkinson, Willie Umu and Brian Geraghty also left the UAE as well as a host of others. This summer, meanwhile, has seen long-time club captain Phil Abraham hang up his boots as well as UAE stalwart Phil Brady.

Pieter Kilian, Alfred Ries, Tom Brown, Gerrit Visser, Jona Marshall and Joe Teasdale are also among the departures – leaving Quins fighting an uphill battle.

“All of them are first XV starters. And that’s on top of losing 12 first team players last season,” added McFarlane.

“We did so well last year considering we lost so many but to happen again this year is a nightmare. Especially as so many of the second team have gone too.”

Kandy arrive in the UAE capital having lost the Champions League opener 31-20 to Bahrain last weekend. Quins will hope to begin brightly as they then head to Bahrain next week for what will likely be a deciding match if they win on Friday.

They are chasing a third straight Champions League title.

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Al Maha, UAE Rugby’s all-Emirati U18 girls team, return home after Sri Lanka training camp

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UAE Rugby’s all-Emirati U18 girls team, Al Maha, have just returned home from an intensive seven-day training camp in Sri Lanka as Apollo Perelini prepares his side for the U18 Girls Asia Rugby 7’s Tournament which will be taking place in India later this year.

Perelini and his squad have been training in Colombo and Kandy, where they have been fine-tuning and honing their rugby skills and increasing their fitness levels.

The purpose of the camp was to prepare the national side for the upcoming tournament, which will be taking place during October.

On the final day of the camp, Al Maha were able to put the skills learnt during their trip into practice as they played a number of friendly games with the Sri Lankan U18 girls’ sevens squad.

UAE Rugby’s head coach Perelini is delighted with the progress of his team and says the Sri Lanka trip will benefit the team hugely ahead of the tournament in a few months’ time.

“The camp was a success, we’re seeing vast improvements in their abilities, and I’m exceptionally pleased with the commitment shown by this group of girls in developing their rugby skills and levels of fitness,” said Perelini, the former dual code rugby star.

“Our players gained valuable experience and I am confident this camp has assisted preparations ahead of their participation in the Asia Rugby U18 Girls Tournament.”

UAE Rugby Federation Secretary General Qais Al Dhalai added his thanks to the team’s hosts during their stay.

“We extend our sincere appreciation to the Sri Lanka Rugby Union, where, through their co-operation and assistance this camp was possible,” said Al Dhalai.

“We also thank their entire team for welcoming our girls so warmly, and for looking after them while in Sri Lanka.”

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Promising cricketer Arnav Kambli aims to play for India after leaving UAE for Mumbai

Denzil Pinto 17/06/2018
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Next target: India. Arnav Kambli (right) with G Force head coach Gopal Jasapara. Image: G Force

A promising youngster has left the UAE for Mumbai to continue his cricketing education as he aims to make his dream a reality by playing for India one day.

Arnav Kambli, 13, travelled to India last week after making the cut during a tournament in Mumbai that attracted more than 1,000 young prospects.

Kambli was one of 18 boys to be selected after impressing in the Under-16 event and instead of making multiple trips between Dubai and India to test himself on Indian soil, he decided to make the switch and live permanently in Mumbai.

His major reason was to get as much game time as possible against India’s best young prospects in a competitive environment that would help him develop as a cricketer. He arrives in Mumbai on the back of an impressive innings in the UAE where he has picked the brains of many former internationals including ex-South Africa captain Graeme Smith, former India coach Gary Kirsten and ex-Pakistan batsman Mudassar Nazar. That’s not to mention the numerous personal accolades he has won after scoring tons of runs in as many matches.

The batsman/wicket-keeper will now play school cricket before joining a club in October and continue his road of donning the India jersey one day.

“The trials wasn’t easy as you are playing in different conditions in Mumbai but if you want something really bad, you should be willing to sweat it out,” said Kambli, who joined Dubai-based G-Force Academy as a five-year-old. “It was really intense but I was more than happy to get through.”

On his decision to move to India, he said: “Mumbai is a place that worships cricket. Anywhere you go, you see someone who plays cricket. My decision was easy as there are many players and clubs here and there are many opportunities to play in tournaments. The competition over here is very intense and there are a lot of grounds to play on. All of these things put together excited me and this is why I decided to stay in India to pursue my cricketing dream.”

Although he has just moved to India, he has set himself ambitious targets over the next 12 months. “My aim is to play for the Mumbai team within the next year,” he added. “I want to play well and keep improving and score as many runs. My passion is cricket and my dream is to play for India that is why I have chosen Mumbai as my first step to get closer to my goal.”

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