Defeat to Abu Dhabi Harlequins at the beginning of the month left a sour taste in the mouth of Stephen Ferguson, but the big Northern Irish forward says he and his Dubai Exiles teammates won’t let it derail their season.
Exiles began the 2017/18 campaign in blistering fashion, blowing away Dubai Eagles and rivals Hurricanes in the opening two weeks – putting up 125 points in the process.
They have been brought crashing back down to earth since, however, losing their next three fixtures against Jebel Ali Dragons, Bahrain and Quins – by a combined margin of 11 points.
The season is now on a sevens hiatus until mid-December, which is even more frustrating for Ferguson who was impressive at Zayed Sports City on his comeback from an operation to remove an abscess on his arm.
“It feels amazing to be out there with all the boys and I got to play against my mate Sempy (Quins scrum-half Andrew Semple) too, from Derry, but it was a gutting loss,” said Ferguson, 29, who has more reason than most to be angry at the stop-start nature of this season’s fixture list.
“The rest of the guys will play sevens now but for the bigger guys who won’t, we need to keep the reps going because you don’t want to go back to square one again.
“I’m only getting back now and I’m not going to play sevens, I’m 135kg. I’ll do a mini pre-season and I think a lot of the
other big guys in our team will do that too, because we don’t want to lose what we’ve built up.
“We’ve been so close in our defeats and we don’t want to take our foot off the gas now before Christmas. We’ll still be training twice a week and be doing a bit more sevens training now which will be beneficial for all of us.”
After Exiles had begun to banish the ghosts of last season with their roaring start to the campaign, Ferguson is adamant the three latest losses won’t impact the squad.
“We’re definitely not getting derailed,” he said.
“Every loss has been closer and we’re feeling like we’ll come through this as a team. Our defence this year has been exceptional. Denis (Hurley, assistant coach) has come in and we’ve all bought in to what he’s teaching us. Our attack (against Quins) was better than it was two weeks ago.”
It will be an interesting week for Michael Cheika. Although he will be saying completely the opposite, the Wallabies coach knows that he has every chance of exacting sweet revenge against his old Randwick club mate, England boss Eddie Jones, this Saturday at Twickenham.
Cheika and Jones used to be mates. “Used to be” being the operative phrase. But then Jones took his England team down to Australia in June 2016 and brought Cheika, still floating on a high from the 2015 Rugby World Cup, down to earth with a shuddering thud.
England triumphed 3-0, their first ever Test series victory in Australia, but it wasn’t the results that really irked Cheika. It was the way it was done. Jones, like any old hooker, loves a good sledge and he tore into Cheika from the moment he touched down.
Cheika, usually one to give as good as he gets, stayed oddly mute – almost as if out of respect for the former Australian coach. But Jones paid no such heed, allowing Fast Eddie free-reign to clean Cheika up off and on the field. And Eddie clearly delighted in his revenge.
He had been, many would say unfairly, sacked as Australian coach in 2005, after taking the Wallabies to the RWC Final just two years previously. He then returned to Australian Rugby in 2007 only to be sacked again, spectacularly, after just one season at the Queensland Reds.
For Jones, wiping the smile off the faces of those who laughed at him a decade ago, was cold comfort richly enjoyed. Cheika just didn’t expect he would be the one carrying the brunt of Jones’ ire, staggering around last June in a bewildered stupor as Eddie tore shreds off him daily to the delight of the travelling British media core.
You could almost sense Cheika’s silent protest: “Come on Eddie, we’re mates!” Well, not any more. It’s gloves off as the two men prepare to face off this weekend, and this time Cheika has come out swinging.
Asked if he was going to enjoy sparring with Jones again this week, Cheika shot from the hip: “Mate it’s irrelevant, It’s Australia versus England. It’s not about fun with Eddie.” Ouch.
And for once it’s Jones who has been caught on the back foot after he was captured by TV cameras slamming a notebook and shouting “How ****ing stupid are we?” at a silly penalty as his team stumbled unconvincingly to perhaps the worst of his 20 wins from 21 Tests in charge – 21-8 over Argentina.
Cheika’s team in comparison were excellent in there 29-21 victory over Wales, the pick of the opening weekend of Autumn Internationals.
In a high quality Test match, the Wallabies (without Israel Folau and Jack Dempsey) defeated an impressive new look Wales outift in a highly enthralling match.
In comparison the EnglandPumas game was a snore-fest and the All Blacks seemed off-colour against a very poor France. Ireland were impressive as they demolished South Africa 38-3 and its a great pity we won’t see them against the All Blacks or Wallabies this November.
Jones will have a wary eye on the Irish come next year, but for now its the resurgent Wallabies and the growing-in-confidence Cheika who will be most concerning him. And this time the boot could well and truly be on the other foot.
The National Rugby Championship (NRC), the third tier of Australian rugby beneath the Wallabies and Super Rugby, was designed with the objective of discovering talent.
And over the four years of its existence it certainly has been successful in that task with Samu Kerevi, Dane Haylett-Petty and Reece Hodge just three to emerge from the ranks.
But none are more exciting, or made more of an impact, than former Fijian goalkeeper, Filipo Daugunu. And yes, we are still talking about rugby.
The 22-year-old Daugunu played as a goalkeeper in the oval game but gave it up in 2015 to pursue a career in rugby, first making a mark in the Fiji’s sevens programme.
He only moved to Brisbane this year to play club rugby with the Wests Bulldogs but quickly caught the attention of Queensland talent scouts, who included him in the Queensland Country NRC squad.
Not a bad pick-up as it turned out, as his stats for the tournament show: top tryscorer with 13 tries, second in metres made in attack (792) and second in clean breaks (18).
Okay, pretty impressive but here’s the killer – the most amazing aspect of Daugunu’s feats are that he was suspended for the first three rounds of the competition. He did it all in just seven matches.
The 1.75m tall, 91kg winger announced himself as the latest Fijian flyer to put his stamp on Australian rugby with a stunning 75 metre solo try in his NRC debut against the Sydney Rays in Round 4.
Skipper Duncan Paia’aua had just scored the first try of his own hat-trick when Daugunu exploded into action from the re-start.
He evaded seven tackles in a curving long-range run for his first try and then darted onto an inside pass from fly-half Hamish Stewart for a second late in the game.
Since the double against the Rays, he scored a treble against the Melbourne Rising, one in the hardfought win over the NSW Country Eagles and then a stunning quadruple in the 57-31 mauling of the Greater Sydney Rams.
He became just the fourth player in four years to score four tries in a NRC match. He then topped it off with the crowning achievement – a searing second-half hat-trick as Queensland Country defeated Canberra Vikings in Saturday’s final 42-28.
His first came in the 43rd minute, tip-toeing down the sideline to put Country back in the match as they trailed 21-7. The second came 10 minutes later as he finished off a break by Paia’aua to make it 21-21.
His final try put the icing on the cake – a scorching 60 metre effort straight from the kick-off to complete the stunning come from behind victory.
Not a bad result for coach Brad Thorn (l), recently appointed as the Queensland Reds’ new coach in Super Rugby, who took Country from last to first in one season.
Daugunu certainly knows his way to the try line, indeed the only match where he was kept a little quiet was on his return to Fiji, Lautoka, when he and his teammates took on NRC new boys, the Fijian Drua. For Daugunu, who hails from Cakaudrove province, the match was a triumphant homecoming.
A big step for the youngster who began his sporting career playing for the Labasa football club. Queensland fans are already salivating picturing Daugunu in a Reds jersey next season. “(He’s) just a highly-talented young man,” Thorn enthused. “He does some special things out there.
“There’s no substitute for speed and he’s just a natural footballer. “You’d like to think having him in the (Reds) programme, he’s just going to flourish. “He can kick goals, like a lot of Fijians – they’re multi-talented.
He’s good in a ruck situation, he’s a physical guy. “It’s great to have him on board and good reward for him. He’s backed himself, come here, played club footy and got picked up. “And he’s a wonderful young man too.”
The challenge now for Daugunu is to continue his feats against the likes of Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo in Super Rugby next year.