Abu Dhabi Harlequins Under-13s are embarking on the “tour of a lifetime” to the UK at the end of the month.
The youngsters will round off their successful season in style with a four-game trip, taking on the likes of Saracens, Exeter Chiefs and Cornish Pirates.
The Quins’ boys will also get the chance to watch the senior side from their UK affiliate club train on Friday, March 27, and meet their heroes, including England internationals Mike Brown, Danny Care and national team captain Chris Robshaw.
The next day they play their first match on tour against Saracens U13s before travelling to London to watch the senior Quins take on Saracens in a mouthwatering Aviva Premiership clash at Wembley.
“We’ve had a pretty successful year and some players are leaving at the end of the season so we wanted to end it with a bang,” said Quins’ coach Dominic Whiting.
“The lads are pretty excited about it. They love rugby and watch a lot of English rugby on TV, so it will be the tour of a lifetime for them.
— Harlequins (@QuinsRugbyUnion) March 11, 2015
“The highlight will definitely be meeting and training with the Harlequins senior players on Friday ahead of their game with Saracens.”
Quins play Exeter Chiefs U-13s on March 29, Hayle U-13s on March 31 and their final match will be against Cornish Pirates U-13s on April 2. The club has previously toured Sri Lanka and Muscat, but unanimously decided on England this year.
“We settled on England as we wanted good levels of competition, the games will be pretty tough,” said Whiting.
“Also, a lot of the kids have never been, even the British expats only go back on holiday.
“It’s going to be an authentic English experience. We’re going to visit the Geevor Tin Mine in Cornwall, Hampton Court Palace in London and take in a coastal walk near Lands’ End.”
Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank are backing the tour, while the team would like to thank Aldar, Canterbury, Park Rotana and photographer Ian Williams who have all donated prizes.
The team has produced a rugby-themed calendar, with photos taken in and around Abu Dhabi, including the Grand Mosque, to raise funds. In addition they have held a series of Six Nations events at The Club.
“Everyone’s come together and chipped in. It’s a real community here in Abu Dhabi where rugby is often secondary,” said Whiting.
“We’re quite a cosmopolitan group, with players from various backgrounds. We’ve got one kid from South Sudan, one from Jordan, kids from Lebanon, Thailand, the Phillipines and India.
— Harlequins (@QuinsRugbyUnion) March 12, 2015
“We’ve got quite a few new players who’d never played rugby before turning up and now they’ve turned into quite good players.”
Quins U-13s have enjoyed tremendous success this season, the highlight being winning the Cup at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Harlequins Junior Rugby Festival in October.
The win was especially poignant as this age group had never won a Cup in any previous tournament and had only won one Plate in five years together.
The hosts were 12-5 and 17-12 behind to Dubai Hurricanes in the final, before two late tries sealed a dramatic 22-17 win.
Ali Thompson admits there are plenty of bruised egos at Abu Dhabi Saracens but insists his team must pick themselves up after last week’s first loss of the Gulf Top Six season.
Sarries lost 31-17 away to Doha, the loss seeing Aaron Palmer’s men go a point above Thompson’s men in the GT6 table.
That in itself is significant as it means Doha are in pole position to finish top of the standings with one league match remaining.
Both Sarries and Doha are assured of a place in the West Asia Cup final but, with the final round of GT6 fixtures to come this weekend, whoever finishes top will
secure the advantage of a home final.
Scotsman Thompson said: “There are a few bruised egos and bodies after the last game, but it’s how we pick ourselves up after this that will determine our season.
— doharugby (@doharugby) March 6, 2015
“When the top two teams in any sport compete against each other the margins of error are fine and Doha capitalised on our mistakes last week.”
Going back to the three games the Al Ghazal men won at the end of the UAE Premiership season, Sarries’ winning streak in all competitions had stood at 11.
Despite the setback, the player/coach knows Sarries must regain their focus quickly otherwise one blip could impact an entire campaign of previous perfection.
Instead of normal training on Monday night, Thompson revealed that the squad spent 90 minutes analysing video footage of the Doha loss.
“We got together and went through the video of the game and that was very positive,” he said.
“This is game 10 and we won’t worry about the possible scenarios of winning and bonus points; for us it’s just business as usual.”
Bahrain return to Abu Dhabi on the back of arguably their worst GT6 performance last week against Harlequins, when they were well beaten 38-12.
Press officer and scrum-half Tom Hanratty said: “We spoke last week of the big challenge of attempting to ignore the ‘holiday mode’ and unfortunately the boys were unable to do that against Quins.
“The physicality in the tackle area, or lack of, was particularly poor and unless we drastically improve on that this weekend, it could be a pretty painful day.
“We probably couldn’t have picked a more difficult assignment for the last game of what – there’s no point in denying – has been a trying and extremely disappointing season.”
Strang hoping to causean upset win over Doha DRAGONS v DOHA:
Murray Strang (r) wants to cause a shock against Doha this weekend and remind everyone who Jebel Ali Dragons are.
Strang is not interested in any sub-plots the Dragons might have a part to play in terms of where the West Asia Cup final is held, but he is glad his team still have a “live” game to play rather than a deadrubber.
“We’re not worrying about any sub-plots, we just want to win our last game and finish the season on a high,” said the Scotsman
One round to go in this year’s Gulf Top 6 competition…fingers remain firmly crossed! pic.twitter.com/WPjoBZiKj0
— doharugby (@doharugby) March 10, 2015
“We want to match up with one of the West Asia Cup finalists and if we can put a result on Doha and affect whether they have a home final then so be it.
“For us, we still have a live game and we can still affect the season and that’s a big motivation for us.
“It’s our last game and we’ll definitely give everything we’ve got.”
Doha ended Abu Dhabi Saracens’ unbeaten GT6 run with a 31-17 win in Qatar last week and know a bonus point win in Jebel Ali this weekend will secure a home West
Asia Cup final for them against the men from Al Ghazal.
Canes and Quins left to reflect on season’s gains HARLEQUINS v HURRICANES:
Despite their season going drastically awry since they were beaten in the UAE Premiership final, Dubai Hurricanes can still reflect on an improved season.
Defeat to Abu Dhabi Harlequins in October’s Premiership final opened up a wound that Canes have not been able to close.
However, Canes have already confirmed a fourth place finish in this season’s GT6, a place above where they finished last season.
“There’s still bragging rights to play for and people want to finish as high as possible,” said coach Ross Mills.
Friday’s hosts Quins also feel the same way. They have already won the Premiership and followed that up by taking the Dubai Sevens title, although their treble dreams were wrecked by an indifferent GT6.
Assistant coach Scott Clark said: “We want to put in a performance that depicts the sort of season we’ve had.”
Ian Hughes is a flanker with high-flying Abu Dhabi Saracens in the Gulf Top Six.
Birthplace: Swansea, Wales
Years in UAE: Two-and-a-half years
Honours: East Wales U11s, Wales Schools U16A (captain), Wales Youth U18s, Wales Schools U18s (captain) and the Welsh Crawshays RFC
Favourite childhood memory of rugby: I have fond memories of Wales v Scotland in the then Five Nations Championship with the legendary Bill McLaren commentating
Favourite player growing up: Scott Gibbs
Rugby team you support: I don’t follow much domestic rugby so this would have to be Wales
Best international at the moment and why: Richie McCaw as he is the rock of the New Zealand team who are, and have been for some time, the No1 team in world rugby
Rule you would change and why: Challenging for a high ball kick needs to be looked at before the World Cup this year. I think there is no consistency in refereeing this area and giving players yellow and red cards can seriously affect the outcome of a match at international level
Best game you ever saw: One of the best games and clinical performances I have ever seen was the 2013 Six Nations when Wales beat England 30-3
Toughest opponent in UAE: In the 2015 Gulf Top 6, I would say that Bahrain have been the toughest opponents
Funniest moment in your career: There have been many funny moments over the years but what goes on tour stays on tour
Greatest achievement in any sport: To be captain of Llandovery College and Wales Schools U18s in the same season
If you could be a professional in any other sport what it would be and why? Formula 1. I think it would be pretty cool to travel the world and drive on some of the toughest race tracks ever designed
Favourite meal: Fillet steak, chips, peas and peppercorn sauce
Favourite place in the UAE: Fairmont – Bab Al Bahr