Abu Dhabi Harlequins begin a new era without inspirational captain Ben Bolger tomorrow night when they host Dubai Hurricanes – but the players insist they must move on.
Quins will be looking to maintain their unbeaten start to the season – but the underlying current to this encounter will be the hosts heading into battle for the first time without captain courageous Bolger, who announced his retirement from rugby earlier this week.
The flanker broke the news to teammates at training on Monday, having come to the decision to call it a day with his health in mind, having suffered numerous concussions throughout his career.
Winger Chris Marshall has a particularly close bond with Bolger as they both arrived in the UAE and the club at the same time as each other. Marshall, who like Bolger has represented the UAE, at sevens level, has endured his own injury nightmare, having spent the last two years on the sidelines following a dislocated shoulder.
And even though he knows Bolger’s loss will leave a huge void, he is confident Quins will react positively.
“The team are fired up for this one after a couple of weeks off and being back at home,” said Marshall.
“Obviously it’s huge to lose someone like Ben from the side, he’s a massive part of the club both on and off the field and the boys have always looked to him as a leader.
“We arrived at the Quins at the same time so it’s gutting for me to see him hang his boots up, but I very much understand the reasoning.
“I don’t think he or the team will let it make a difference at the weekend though, we have several boys who can step up and lead from the front and Ben will very much remain a big part of the group.”
Luke Stevenson has had a similarly talismanic effect on Quins as Bolger and he too is focusing on the fact both the club and player will move on.
“It will definitely will be a factor without Ben, he’s a massive influence on all the boys on the pitch and as a bloke, not just in his performance as a player, so he will of course be missed,” said the fly-half, who featured alongside his now ex-skipper at international level for the UAE in May.
“But we’ve got boys who now get a chance to step up and I’m confident they’ll do that. He’ll still be there in the sheds before and after the game, so he’ll still have his influence. Hopefully we can put in a good performance for him.”
Canes coach, Mike Wernham, meanwhile is relishing the challenge of heading into the lion’s den to face an animal that, although unbeaten after two games, will be wounded by the loss of Bolger.
“We know it’s our biggest challenge yet, we’re under no illusions about that,” said Wernham.
“We have to raise our effort two-fold. We’re targeting certain areas after addressing what wasn’t good against Eagles. We thought the set-piece was a lot better but continuity wasn’t as strong as what it will need to be against Quins.
“We haven’t had our strongest 15 out yet so this will give us a good indication of where we’re at. I’m looking forward to going down with our strongest 22.
“These are the games you put the work in for. We have a massive challenge ahead of us but we’re looking forward to it. I’ve got a good relationship with (Quins head coach) Mike McFarlane and they remain the team to beat this season.”
Know more about Sport360 Application