Abu Dhabi Saracens’ players are relishing the chance to play in the inaugural Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League next month, although chairman Jay Danielson is playing down expectations.
Sarries will test themselves against three other champions from West Asia, including Kazakhstan National League winners Olymp, Gulf Top Six winners and familiar foes Doha, and Sri Lanka Dialog Rugby League champions Kandy.
Australian Danielson is excited to be a part of the tournament, which will be played between September 11-18, but is wary it comes at a time when Sarries will be at the height of preparations for the UAE Premiership kick-off a week later.
“It’s a bit of a double edged sword,” he said. “If we are competitive and do well I’ll be extremely happy, but there’s a little bit of me that thinks, ultimately, it’s preparation towards the start of the season.
“There will still probably be a few rusty bodies out there.”
Despite dampening expectations, Danielson says his men are excited to test themselves against new opponents and show the rest of the continent why they were crowned champions of West Asia last season.
“Of course we want to be the best, we don’t go into any game thinking any different,” said Danielson.
“The guys are pumped about it and being one of the first teams to play in it is great publicity for the club. I’m not going to say we’ll walk away with silverware but we’re excited to be in there. If we win, it’ll be great.”
"There will still probably be a few rusty bodies out there" – Danielson
Doha host Sarries on Friday, September 11, with Kandy facing Olymp in Dubai the following day.
Sarries welcome Kandy to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, September 15 with Doha hosting Olymp the same day. The final fixtures will both be held in Dubai on Friday, September 18, with Sarries taking on Olymp and Kandy playing Doha.
RC: Cheika refuses to get carried away after All Blacks triumph
– UAE: Abu Dhabi Saracens to test themselves against West Asia’s best
– UAE: UAE RF praised but determined to press ahead with new initiatives
Danielson thinks Kandy head into the tournament as favourites.
He said: “I imagine Kandy will be very strong. My understanding is they were very sharp last season, so I think they will be the team to beat.”
Sarries’ new joint player-coach Stephen Hamilton sees the tournament as a massive opportunity for his team.
“It’s massively exciting,” he added. “It will do wonders for ourselves, as well as Doha, Kandy and Olymp, so it’s a really good thing.
“We’ve got a brand and a name to uphold so it’s a massive opportunity to get us on the map and take a massive step forward.”
Despite recognition from World Rugby for the work he and the UAE Rugby Federation have done in four short years since its birth, Qais Al Dhalai insists he has no intention of resting on his laurels.
The UAE RF’s secretary general described the praise received by rugby’s governing body last week as the “ultimate outcome” but was quick to thank his rugby family.
“We have been fully operational since 2011 and it’s taken us four years to get this recognition. Hard work always pays off,” said Al Dhalai.
“We have done a great job, everyone who belongs to the UAE RF family. This recognition is one of the ultimate outcomes for any sports administrator.”
Al Dhalai is determined to press ahead with new initiatives, including a collaborative venture between the UAE RF, World Rugby and Asia Rugby to promote rugby in war-torn Palestine.
“We have a promising project to introduce rugby to Palestine, working closely with World Rugby and Asia Rugby to introduce the game,” he said.
“We are doing a good thing for the right reason, to spread the game. The biggest value of rugby is to grow the game.
“World Rugby does not only look after performance. The Rugby World Cup and HSBC Sevens World Series is key but growing the game is an equal part.
“Development is my hobby, I love it and think I and my colleagues in UAE RF and AR are doing well.”
In our weekly round-up of all things rugby, #360Rugby takes in the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship victory, Argentina’s historic win in Durban and Stuart Lancaster’s unexpected World Cup omissions.
Welcome back Wallabies
With a Rugby Championship title and an All Black scalp, Australia have taken a huge step towards redemption after a barren few years marked by problems both on and off the field.
In a remarkably short space of time Michael Cheika has instilled a winning belief in his team with consecutive victories against the pre-tournament top-two rated sides in the world.
It cannot be stressed enough how important this momentum is in boosting the confidence of a group of players about to embark on the Rugby World Cup’s “Group of Death”.
Cheika’s back row gamble of playing two natural number 7s in Michael Hooper and David Pocock alongside each other was a huge success, with the duo proving a menace at the breakdown.
The astute appointment of Argentinean scrum-guru Mario Ledesma also seems to have paid dividends with the Wallaby eight more than holding their own against the much-fancied Springbok, Kiwi and Puma packs. The Wallaby set-piece is not such a great joke after all.
World Cup totally wide open – @Wallabies brilliant selection of Hooper / Pockock & both play 80 mins win the game , both had awesome games
— Sir Clive Woodward (@CliveWoodward) August 8, 2015
Milner-Skudder the real deal
New Zealand missed out on claiming the Rugby Championship after conceding 10 late points but Nehe Milner-Skudder’s debut will still have brought a smile to Kiwi faces.
The winger’s brace of tries was just reward for a complete performance that showcased his variety of skills. The Manawatu native demonstrated good pace and variation in attack, commitment in defense and the quality of selflessness that Steve Hansen holds so dear.
However those who hope that the loss will damage the All Blacks’ World Cup chances will be gravely disappointed.
Four years ago, the Wallabies claimed the Rugby Championship and defeated New Zealand shortly before the All Blacks went on to win the World Cup.
These losses apparently motivate the team under Richie McCaw and with the Bledisloe Cup still to play for next week, the AB’s are anything but dead.
Watch out for Milner Skudder in space! Unreal footwork…
— DannyCipriani (@DannyCipriani87) August 8, 2015
Pumas leave Springboks scratching heads
Los Pumas’ win was as huge moment in international rugby. Not only did Argentina beat the mighty Springboks for the first time, but they did it on South African soil.
The South Americans out-performed their hosts in every single department from pace to passion, with Juan Imhoff set to join Milner-Skudder as one of the wingers to watch next month.
Bok captain Jean de Villiers was ‘embarrassed’ by the performance of his team who have dropped to fifth in the world rankings and collect the Rugby Championship wooden spoon.
To cap off a terrible evening for the Africans de Villiers is back in the sanitorium with a fractured jaw that will keep the centre out for up for four weeks.
Whilst no fan ever wants to see a player injured (and especially such a revered character in the game), the layoff may prove a blessing in disguise for South Africa who seem to be at their potent best when Jesse Kriel joins Damian de Allende in the centres.
Bryan Habana says South Africa’s loss to Argentina was as bad as anything he has experienced in rugby. pic.twitter.com/vyqDYK7Aoo
— EatSleepRugby (@Eat_Sleep_Rugby) August 10, 2015
Lancaster narrows England’s attacking options
In the most controversial news of the week Stuart Lancaster announced that Chris Ashton and Kyle Eastmond would be joining the release list from England’s World Cup preparations.
The winger’s absence leaves Jonny May, Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell and Semesa Rokoduguni to fight it out for the remaining three berths.
Ashton touched down 13 times for his club last season and while the remaining four wings undoubtedly pose unique threats, none are consistent try-scorers and the Saracen will feel rightly aggrieved at his exile.
While Eastmond’s exclusion also raised eyebrows, Lancaster’s thinking is more easily justifiable.
Given England’s plethora of footballing options in the centre and the Bath man’s inability to replicate his club form at the highest level, his inclusion would have been a gamble. A gamble that Lancaster would rather take on Sam Burgess given the former Rabbitoh’s ability to break the gainline.
Fascinatingly, I’m very surprised to see Chris Ashton sent home. Pure class on the wing and a top, top bloke to have in the room. Ho hum.
— David Flatman (@davidflatman) August 7, 2015
Heaslip lives up to the hype
Captain Jamie Heaslip submitted an inspired display as Ireland overcame Wales in Cardiff to moved up to second place in the World Rugby Rankings.
The Irish attack looked direct and organised, with total domination of their hosts at the breakdown and scrum.
The only sour note of Joe Schmidt’s afternoon being a late injury to flanker Tommy O’Donnell who now looks set to miss the World Cup after a superb match.
A loss on home soil has no doubt left Welsh fans wondering if enough rugby was being played in their team’s much lauded World Cup training camps in Qatar and Switzerland.
In particular Wales’ defensive deficiencies and poor set-piece will be giving Warren Gatland some sleepless nights ahead of the return fixture in Ireland.
How painful does a dislocated hip sound? Really feel for Tommy O’Donnell.
— Simon Thomas (@simonrug) August 10, 2015
If ever a coach was looking for the perfect demonstration of passion, leadership and commitment, then Michael Hooper’s try-saving tackle on All Black juggernaut Julian Savea might just be it. While the tackling technique left a lot to be desired, the moment of inspiration gave his team the lift they needed to win an epic match.