It’s not exactly “back to the drawing board”, but Mike McFarlane feels Abu Dhabi Harlequins can’t afford many more off days if they are to build on their fine start to the 2018/19 season.
Quins welcome defending West Asia Premiership champions Jebel Ali Dragons to Zayed Sports City this weekend looking to get back to winning ways following just a second defeat of the season in Bahrain a week ago.
McFarlane’s men were downed 39-20 in Saar by Louie Tonkin’s side, who leapfrogged Quins at the top of the table.
Quins trailed Bahrain 18-0 at one stage, a situation McFarlane felt left his side facing “mission impossible”.
“It has to be a game where we put our hands up and say we didn’t click today and the better team won,” said the fourth-year coach.
“We didn’t show up at the start and gifted them an 18-point lead which at a place like Bahrain sets up mission impossible.
“Their bench had a huge impact and we know with numbers this year we don’t have the depth we have had before.”
Quins are second on 20 points from four wins and two losses and McFarlane remains upbeat ahead of Dragons’ visit to the capital.
“It’s not back to the drawing board but certainly a warning that we can’t afford any more off days. We are looking forward to Dragons and putting in a Quins performance from one-22 against them.”
Dragons head to Abu Dhabi buoyed by an impressive result over Dubai Exiles – a thrilling 45-36 victory resuscitating their flagging campaign.
Mike Phillips’ men remain fourth but are only five points behind Quins, who they could draw level with if they achieve maximum points on Friday.
“The good thing is it’s a long season and that win gives us a nice platform to move in to next week,” said skipper Ross Samson.
“We played the best rugby we have played in a couple of years in the middle 40 minutes which is really encouraging.”
Bahrain, no question though, are the team to beat this season. Quins did pull back to 18-15 at one stage last week, but reinforcements off the bench for the hosts proved pivotal as Bahrain eventually sauntered to a convincing, bonus point win.
They now lead the way by four points ahead of a trip to Dubai Eagles this week, before returning to Dubai again the following week for a match against Exiles that will bring to an end the second block of games and signal a mini break ahead of the Dubai Sevens.
Tonkin felt the tussle between the top two was a great advert for the Premiership.
“It was a great win. If you’d said we would have won 5-0 beforehand we’d have bitten your hand off,” said the Welshman.
“It was a real high quality game, the highest standard I think we’ve been involved in out here. Both teams were going through high phases and defending well. It was a really good contest and advert for the league.
“Home games are really important. We’ve played them before and it’s been really close but we have dropped some key opportunities before – but on the weekend we took those opportunities.
“I think the bench coming on was the difference. From 58 minutes we dripped some key players on and that proved the difference. Quins brought it back to 18-15 but put key subs saw us ramp up the intensity and we scored three brilliant tries at the end. One of them was a bit contentious so we maybe got some luck, but it was our turn to get some luck.”
Looking ahead to the trip to winless Eagles this week, Tonkin added: “We’ve got two more games now to finish this block before the Sevens, Eagles away and Exiles at home, so two big games for us and hopefully we can finish the block in a really strong position.”
In Friday’s other fixture, Exiles host Hurricanes in a Dubai derby at The Sevens.
19:00 Dubai Eagles v Bahrain
19:00 Dubai Exiles v Dubai Hurricanes
19:00 Abu Dhabi Harlequins v Jebel Ali Dragons
RAK Rugby will be hosting the inaugural Nick Young Annual Golf Day later this month in memory of one of the club’s former players.
Australian Young, 43, died on April 29 this year, in the aftermath of suffering a head injury while playing at the Sharjah 10s tournament days earlier.
He was buried in his homeland in May, leaving behind a wife and two young children.
The Nick Young Annual Golf Day will be hosted at Tower Links Golf Club in Ras Al Khaimah on Friday, November 16, and is the latest initiative to be organised in the wake of Young’s death.
Abu Dhabi rivals Quins and Saracens played a memorial game to honour Young at Saracens’ Al Ghazal ground in May, while RAK and Arabian Knights – who Young had been playing against when tragedy struck – put on the first Nick Young Memorial match in Sharjah on June 1.
“We’ve set this this golf day up as Nick was a massive lover sport and has two young lads and a wife back in Australia who we’d like to help out,” said RAK chairman Simon Williams.
“It’s also a chance for the rugby community and his friends to come together to remember a great man and have some fun in the name of a good cause.
“In addition, we have a Nick Young Trophy which is an annual rugby match between the Arabian Knights and RAK, as Nick was playing in a combined Knights/RAK team at Sharjah when the fatal incident occurred.
“These are annual fixtures, the golf being the first to be held and the second rugby trophy match will happen at the end of the season.
“We’d love to see every club send representatives but the event is open to anyone interested with the aim to have 72 players and all their friends and family along to enjoy as well as raise some money (and a toast) to Nick.”
Registration and payment are open for the event at 11:00 for a Shotgun start next Friday, with tee-off from 12:30 onwards.
The price is Dh375 per person (cash only) which will also include a barbecue, beverages, a prize giving ceremony and live entertainment.
For team reservations and further information, call Williams on 056 138 4379 or Galvin McKechnie on 050 536 8676, email [email protected].
England face one of the toughest tests in rugby when they lock horns with New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday evening.
After last weekend’s 12-11 win over South Africa, Eddie Jones’ side will be bidding to beat the world champions as they look to climb their way back up the rankings.
As you can imagine, there is a myriad of talking points ahead of the clash and here we select three of the most prominent.
BATTLE AT NO10
Beauden Barrett is one of the greatest fly-halves of this current generation, but for a two-time World Player of the Year, his place kicking is appalling.
Remarkably, the Hurricanes man is the worst goal kicker in the world for Tier One nations – with a 71.9 per cent success rate (179/249) from the tee. In contrast, Owen Farrell has a 78.9 per cent success rate (251/318) which places him fifth on the list.
Barrett, 27, may have the playmaking skills which are the envy of his rivals, but how many teams have won a Rugby World Cup with a poor placekicker?
It’s something Steve Hansen needs to weigh up ahead of next September’s showpiece in Japan, especially when his brother Jordie and sub fly-half Richie Mo’unga are much better placekickers.
For England, co-captain Farrell is their star man and makes everything tick with his sound defence, accurate kicks under pressure and an ability to boss the game with ease.
Although Barrett’s kicking is under par for an international fly-half, he can still cause serious damage with ball in hand. Both players will be central to the outcome of Saturday’s result.
CAN ENGLAND FINALLY DOMINATE THE BREAKDOWN?
That’s the million pound question.
The wrong back-row selection, the absence of star names due to injury and a lack of discipline have contributed to England losing the breakdown battle since the turn of the calendar year.
With totemic No7 Tom Curry ruled out with an ankle injury, much of the focus will fall on Maro Itoje, Brad Shields and Mark Wilson to step up and dominate the tackle area.
Itoje, in particular, was immense the last time he faced the All Blacks on the Lions tour in July 2017, ruling the line-out and covering every blade of grass along the way.
The 24-year-old may have struggled for a run of consistent form since, but this is the perfect fixture for him to step up again and prove why he is a future England captain in the waiting.
At No8, Wilson is without the same carrying power of the injured Billy Vunipola and Nathan Hughes, but Jones will need the in-form Newcastle man to get around the pitch quicker in a bid to cut down the imposing All Blacks forwards from gaining a foothold in the contest.
TRIES WIN MATCHES
If England are to beat the world champions, they need to score plenty of tries.
One of the strongest areas of Jones’ team is his back three, with Elliot Daly, Jack Nowell and Jonny May all possessing speed, power, solid defence and reliability under the high ball.
May, in particular, is the lighting rod of the home attack and can make magic happen any time he gets the ball in space. The Gloucester winger has five tries in his previous six tests but will need to be at his utmost best if he is to get the upperhand on the All Blacks duo of Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane – who has scored a stunning 22 tries in 21 appearances.
However, for all England’s prowess in attack, they have only crossed the line 22 times in their 10 tests in 2018, in contrast to the All Blacks’ 67 tries in 12 tests this year.
If Jones wants to taste a first win over New Zealand, then he needs his players to cut loose and ship the ball out to his danger men out wide.
IS MANU TUILAGI READY?
The Leicester centre looks set to make his England return this weekend after being included in the 25-man squad.
The 27-year-old was due to make his first international appearance since 2016 in the win over South Africa on Saturday but was forced to withdraw due to a groin strain.
Tuilagi though trained fully this week without any issues and is expected to be re-selected when Jones names his team on Thursday.
Six years ago he tore apart the All Blacks with a scintillating display in the historic 38-21 win at Twickenham, setting up tries for Brad Barritt and Chris Ashton and scoring a late intercept himself.
Expect him to make a serious impact when introduced alongside Ben Te’o or Henry Slade on Saturday.