McFarlane's men weren't even aware of title triumph

Matt Jones 27/02/2017
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The domestic rugby season was thrown into controversy yesterday after Abu Dhabi Harlequins were awarded the West Asia Premiership title – despite hardly any clubs being aware that the championship was being run on a league format.

Clubs had been fulfilling their 2016/17 fixtures under the assumption that both the WAP and UAE Premiership seasons would come down to finals – the West Asia showpiece to be played on March 31 and the UAE title up for grabs a week later on April 7.

West Asia Premiership and Gulf Conference Competitions Regulations for the current campaign posted on the Asia Rugby website in September state that the competition is played across 14 rounds home and away and that the winner is the team with the most points.

But Quins had no idea their 47-7 victory over Jebel Ali Dragons in Abu Dhabi on Friday night meant they had usurped Dubai Exiles as West Asia champions.

Ghaith Jalajel, Asia Rugby’s development consultant for the UAE region, told Sport360: “It is correct the West Asia Premiership is won on points, so whoever finishes top of the table is the winner.

“The play-offs they have to play later is for the West Asia Cup, where we have the top and bottom four playing. One plays four and two plays three and then a final. There is a Cup and a Trophy. The UAE Premiership is first v second in a play-off final.”

Quins were only made aware of the actual rules by Bahrain, who seemed to be the only side aware of this.

It has left a bitter taste among their competitors though, especially Bahrain, Doha, Exiles and Dragons who were all in contention for a top-four finish in the WAP which they believed brought with it a play-off berth to vie for the West Asia title.

Dragons director of rugby Paul Hart fumed: “Our understanding has always been that the top four teams in the West Asia league go into the semi-finals on March 24. Therefore the only thing won to this stage is home advantage in the semi’s

“It’s like awarding Wasps the cup in the English Premiership before the play-offs have even started. We are working hard to qualify for the semi-finals and like all competitions the champions are crowned when they win the final.”

2015/16 champions Exiles have been below par this term, but a bonus point victory over Abu Dhabi Saracens in their final game of the campaign at The Sevens on Friday ensured they went above Dragons into fourth spot, which they believed at least gave them a fighting chance of reaching the post-season.

“We were all under the impression that there is a semi and a final in the West Asia Premiership,” said coach Jacque Benade.

“Top of UAE Premiership and second place also play of in a final. I just don’t know why do you have semis and finals if it is not for the league competitions.

“We were still fighting for a top four under the impression that we can still win the WAP if we can make the play-offs. When we travelled to play Bahrain and Doha they were all talking about the importance of having a home semi-final.

“I know it was a big issue from last year at the end of the season and as far as I know it was discussed with the UAE Rugby Federation by the clubs to bring in a semi-final and a final. In the UAE premiership it was just a straight final between first and second.”

Alex Natera’s Doha, unlike Exiles, were guaranteed a play-off spot, and the Qatar-based coach branded the revelation “rubbish”.

“As far as we are aware the West Asia Premiership is to be decided on March 31. I did read (something about the changes) on social media but just dismissed it straight away.”

Quins, unsurprisingly, were left ecstatic at the news, confirming them as winners of three trophies this season having also captured the Dubai Sevens and West Asia Champions League titles earlier in the campaign.

Head coach Mike McFarlane said: “The title has been won. It’s two different competitions. I had to check this with West Asia and UAE RF. It’s fantastic to claim the league after a sustained effort from the boys. It was a great way to secure it with a clinical performance against Dragons.”

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IN PICS: Zurich Corporate Touch 6s title

Sport360 staff 27/02/2017
Savills celebrate.

Core Savills took part in a gruelling six matches on Friday, before beating Alec in the men’s final 6-3 to become the first team in the history of the Zurich Corporate Touch 6s to successfully defend their title.

The victors, led by David Abood, had to contend with a record number of teams taking part in the event to clinch the much-coveted Winners’ Cup.

Team captain David said: “Coming back to the tournament for the second time, we were feeling the pressure to defend out title. We didn’t have as many substitutes this year and the competition was much harder than 2016, but the guys worked hard and did us proud!”

“The tournament has grown a lot since 12 months ago and we want to say a special thanks to all the referees, who were amazing. It was a fantastic day and we definitely plan to come back next year to try and secure a hat trick.”

In the mixed teams’ category, the Saudi Scorpions fought their way to a tense 3-1 victory over tournament newcomers Emirates in their final game, which saw them lift the Mixed Team Winners’ Cup for the first time.

Team captain Trish Maru (48) said: “I’m so proud of the team, who totally exceeded all of our expectations. Emirates were very tough competitors and we actually lost against them when we played each other in the opening round, so we were nervous to face them again. However, we were very determined and focused on the end result and this obviously paid off.”

The Female Player of the Tournament accolade was awarded to Hattie Witty, who played for Zurich, while the Male Player award went to Robin Stewart of last year’s mixed team champions Atkins. Both showed great determination, skill and enthusiasm throughout the tournament on behalf of their respective teams.

Returning to the tournament for the first time in six years was ex-England rugby union player, Steve Thompson.

Thompson, who took part in the Transguard Living Team, was full of praise for the tournament:

“I took part in the very first Zurich Touch tournament in Jebel Ali six years ago. Coming back today as part of the Tranguard Living team really highlighted just how much the tournament has grown. It has been a great carnival atmosphere and it’s great to see so many families down here making a real day of it.”

“My team is a real mix of abilities, including some who have never seen a rugby ball before! But, that’s what makes Touch such a great game because anyone can play. It’s been a brilliant day, and I hope to be back next year with the Transguard Living team.”

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15 MINUTES WITH: Leanne Fridd on Touch Rugby 6s

Matt Jones 23/02/2017
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In form: Kiwi star Fridd.

Leanne Fridd has been an avid fan of touch ever since her tomboy days growing up in New Zealand, and the Dubai-based schoolteacher was named player of the tournament in the mixed section on her debut at last year’s Zurich Corporate Touch 6s Tournament.

The head of primary at Safa Community School only entered at the last minute too.

She is once again part of the Atkins team entered into this year’s event, which takes place Friday at the Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club. Off the field, Fridd is buoyed by the growth of the sport worldwide and in the UAE thanks to Middle East Touch. Having been in the UAE for three years, she is also pleased to see more women and young girls taking up the sport and is happy to play her small part in developing that further.

When did you start playing touch?

I started playing touch when I was about five. However, I think I was dragged down to the touch grounds from the age of three as my dad played.

What got you into the sport?

I’m a Kiwi, so it was actually very normal to play netball and touch rugby as a girl. Although it was actually my dad who really got me into it – I watched him play from a very young age and so I must have developed the touch bug through him. I was also jealous that he used to teach my brother, and being a bit of tomboy, I wanted to prove that I could play as well. I also wasn’t allowed to play proper rugby as dad felt it wasn’t a girl’s sport.

As a teacher now, what would you say about girls playing touch, rugby or any sport?

I think it’s so important that girls have a go at any sports they like – it’s great for their interpersonal skills and understanding of collaboration, two very important skills which they’ll need in the future.

What would you say to other women out there who have never played the game?

The best way to learn is to play. The other players are really good at teaching you the basic workings of the game and all the girls that I have played with here – where it has been their first time – have picked it up very quickly. It’s also so much more fun than pounding the treadmill at the gym.

What are the benefits?

The great thing is that the games are very quick and you get to combine attacking and defending.Playing against the boys is also a lot of fun because they make the competition so much more challenging, which means you learn a lot and get very fit in the process.

What has touch got going for it that other sports are maybe lacking?

It’s a very social game and always a has a nice atmosphere. Last weekend we played in a junior nations tournament – it was beautiful weather, music was playing and there was a great standard of touch being played. It kind of made me feel like I was playing sport back home in New Zealand. Sometimes I think Dubai lacks ‘normality’ and I feel playing sport over here brings that back.

Why did you decide to take part in the Zurich Corporate Touch 6s Tournament last year?

Well it’s actually a funny story as my very good friend Fraser, who I used to play against on Wednesday nights, began dating my best friend Jemma. So, I think he asked me to play in the hope that she would come along to watch. They actually got engaged recently and I like to claim that I was the reason for this, because I introduced them.

So the game has had a positive impact not just on your life, but others too?

Yes, definitely. It’s a great way to meet people and create different circles of friends.

How did you feel when you were named player of the tournament at last year’s Zurich tournament?

Embarrassed because I was the ringer for the team. I actually didn’t work for Atkins and was in a little bit of pain as I dislocated my finger in the final.

What are the aims for this year?

I have no idea, it’s the end of our school inspection week, so I will need to get through that first. However, I am sure my team-mate Fraser has big aspirations for the team.

It’s a relatively young tournament but can you see it growing?

Definitely, even this year I can see that more school teams are beginning to enter.

John Larkins and ME Touch have had a huge impact on the game in the UAE. What do you think about the work they do?

I think what John has done over here is great – he has raised the profile of a great sport, in a context which you wouldn’t expect to see touch being played.

Do you play touch at your school too?

No, unfortunately. However, we do have in-house weekly sport competitions with our staff on Thursday afternoons and next year I will be strategic with my recruitment so we can enter a strong team into the Zurich Touch 6s.

With Sonny Bill Williams’ sister Niall playing sevens and the NZ sevens team being at the top of the women’s game, how good is that for young girls back home to see?

I think it’s great to see any team be successful in a global capacity and it’s brilliant for our girls to have positive role models who are successful in both sport and academics.

Your dad played rugby which is why you became interested. Who was your favourite team growing up and what players inspired you?

I think when I was younger the Otago Highlanders, but I didn’t have any key players who really inspired me. However, as a true Kiwi, obviously Richie McCaw because of his leadership skills on and off the field.

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