Change is inevitable in such a transient place like the UAE, but Jebel Ali Dragons will be hoping things stay pretty much the same after a return to prominence and more importantly success in 2017/18.
Dragons, back to back treble winners in domestic rugby in both 2012/13 and 2013/14, won their first piece of silverware in four years last term – lifting the coveted West Asia Premiership title.
They did it in dramatic fashion too – needing a bonus point win from a daunting trip to Bahrain on the final day, Dragons did just that, winning 36-32 in Saar to prise the title away from defending champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins, who had secured a routine 55-3 win over Dubai Eagles.
Times change though and Dragons are no different, with a heavy player recruitment drive over the summer, as well as the small matter of Premiership-winning coach Henry Paul moving on and being replaced by another former high-profile ex-professional – former Wales and British & Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips.
There may have been a heavy influx of both players and staff, which could destabilise the success built by Paul, over the summer, but skipper Ross Samson can only see Dragons getting stronger.
“The changes off the field are pretty obvious in terms of HP leaving and Mike coming in,” said the Scottish No9.
“But we are growing from strength to strength behind the scenes and are the most organised we have ever been. Plus, the kids’ section has quadrupled in size from this time last season, so it’s all positive stuff.”
UAE veteran prop Paul hart has retired, as has fellow Dragons stalwart and second row Joe Cooper – but Dragons have been busy recruiting.
Lawrence Reynolds, a veteran of the Welsh Premiership with Llandovery, Llanelli and Carmarthen Quins, returns having had a brief stint with both Dragons and Bahrain two seasons ago, while former Wales Sevens star Rhys Thomas is also an exciting new arrival.
Versatile back row forward Roger Birkin arrives with experience of English National 1, while Angus Maxfield, an ex-Dubai College pupil, is an exciting prospect in the backs, as is talented Kiwi playmaker Antini Brown.
Long-time Dubai Hurricanes lock and UAE international Daniel Perry has moved across Dubai, while Stew Shaw is a Scotland former age group hooker.
The whispers going around seem to suggest Dragons will come into the season as favourites to retain their crown, but Samson knows they have a target on their backs and the likes of Dubai Exiles, Quins and Bahrain will have some say in the matter.
“I’m sure each team has been working hard over the summer and we expect with the smaller, higher quality league and each team playing each other three times it will test each squad’s strength in depth as physicality and intensity will need to be at the highest level each game week,” added Samson, the former Edinburgh and Newcastle Falcons man.
“Our hopes and aims are to play an exciting brand of rugby and give ourselves the opportunity to win every game we play in, whether that’s our first, second or third teams that we are delighted to be able to field regularly.”
All Blacks-toppling South Africa boss Rassie Erasmus will coach the Barbarians for the first time in December’s clash with Argentina at Twickenham.
Rugby director Erasmus guided the Springboks to their first win over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil in nine years with Saturday’s fine 36-34 win in Wellington.
And fresh from that triumph, the former Munster coach has now been confirmed to take charge of world-famous invitational outfit the BaaBaas in the December 1 Pumas clash in London.
“It’s a terrific honour to be invited to coach the Barbarians later this year and it should be a great occasion at Twickenham,” said Erasmus.
“The Barbarians are renowned for bringing together great individuals and the challenge for coaches is moulding them into a team that plays wonderful rugby, which they certainly showed earlier this year against England.
“There’s a lot of important games for South Africa between now and then but the chance to work with a new group and take on Argentina once more will be a great end to the year.”
The Barbarians pulled off a stunning 63-45 win over England at Twickenham in May, and will be looking to conjure yet more free-spirited rugby against the ever-expansive Argentina.
The Pumas produced a historic triumph of their own last weekend, downing the Australia 23-19 in Queensland for their first win on Wallabies turf in 35 years.
Erasmus will already have experienced Springbok stars Handre Pollard, Eben Etzebeth and Tendai Mtawarira in his Barbarians squad for the clash that follows directly on from South Africa’s autumn international schedule.
Australia scrum-half Will Genia has also already committed to the Barbarians line-up, with further big names still to be confirmed.
Spencer was sent off for a high tackle on Tommy Taylor as the first-half of an eight-try thriller at the Ricoh Arena drew to a close, with his shoulder appearing to connect with the hooker’s head.
Referee Ian Tempest was enforcing the letter of the law as the sport implements a crackdown on dangerous challenges in an effort to address the proliferation of concussion.
But in Spencer’s defence he stands seven inches taller than Taylor and was dipping down as he made a tackle that has ignited a heated debate just eight days after Bristol’s George Smith was sent off in similarly contentious circumstances.
“The game’s gone too PC. That for me is crazy, it’s Rugby. We need to start picking players under five foot,” Leicester interim head coach Geordan Murphy said.
“I see the game becoming very, very different to the game I played and loved. From my point of view, it wasn’t a red card.
Rugby is divided: the authorities are clamping down on head shots to protect the players...but the players and DORs complain it is ruining the game.— Alex Lowe (@AlexMLowe) September 16, 2018
Will Spencer: red, yellow, penalty, play on?pic.twitter.com/SYexQzuWy2
“Tommy Taylor is pulling out of the tackle because he doesn’t want to run upright, so his height is dipped. And I thought the first point of contact was on the shoulder.
“It’s a really tough one. I didn’t think it was a red card – I thought it might be yellow but red has killed the game.
“The TMO was pushing for a red card, saying have a look at it again. It’s a bitter pill when the TMO says we have to look at it when all the players, staff and coaches thought it was a good shot.
“It’s a collision sport and is a sport for all sizes but what we’ll probably end up with is Rugby league where everyone is the same height and shape.
“I understand the principle of looking after players, but if that is a head shot then Tommy Taylor stays down and we have a head injury assessment, but he doesn’t.”
Wasps director of Rugby Dai Young had only measured sympathy for Spencer’s removal from the game and ironically for Leicester they played their best Rugby with 14 men.
“Whether it has to go that way or not, it’s clear, that’s the law. It’s there,” Young said.
“We’ve had the directive that any tackle direct to the head is a red card. It’s harsh and I’d have been disappointed if it was on our side, but I totally understand.
“I don’t think it’s something the referee should be criticised for. If it was a yellow card I wouldn’t have complained about it. I hope the player doesn’t get banned for it. It’s difficult to get that 100 per cent right every time.
“We have to protect the players. The guys who are saying the game’s gone soft are guys who are not out there.”