Former Wales and British & Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips has left Jebel Ali Dragons by mutual consent after six months in charge of the reigning West Asia champions.
The signing of the former Scarlets, Blues, Ospreys and Racing 92 No9 caused shockwaves in UAE rugby when it was announced in June, with the 36-year-old taking over from another famous name in Henry Paul – who left to be another former Welsh international Kingsley Jones’ No2 at Canada.
After delivering the West Asia Premiership title last season – Dragons’ maiden trophy in four years – they have struggled under Phillips in 2018/19. They have lost five of their nine games this season and sit fifth in the standings, a distant 19 points off table-topping Bahrain, and were dumped out of the Dubai Rugby Sevens, losing 21-19 in the semi-finals to champions Dubai Hurricanes.
Phillips has already been replaced, with former Scotland Under-16 and Caledonia academy coach Colin Philips named his successor.
Despite their travails, chairman Stuart Quinn insisted club and head coach parted on amicable terms, revealing the “Mike Phillips effect” has had a huge impact on the club.
“Mike and myself sat down about what was going to be happening in the second half of the season,” Quinn told Sport360.
“We’re still in all four competitions so we wanted to talk about what we were going to do. But with Mike’s fledgling academy, media duties and new baby, we both realised he wasn’t going to be able to dedicate the time to the role that he felt it deserved.
“With a new-born baby and a lack of availability throughout the upcoming Six Nations, it was going to make it hard for both of us, so we agreed it was for the best.
“We decided to part ways, which was mutual. We’ve loved having him and he was great for us. He wished us the best of luck and we’ve now moved on to Colin, who’s a hands-on type of guy.”
Phillips is the joint sixth most capped Welshman of all-time with 94 games for the Dragons, alongside Colin Charvis and Jamie Roberts. He represented the Lions on five occasions during the 2009 and 2013 tours to South Africa and Australia respectively.
He only retired in 2017 and quickly moved out to the UAE, where he established his Mike Phillips Rugby Academy alongside Just Play in that December.
Namesake Philips, who is now working with UAE national team coach Apollo Perelini at his own rugby academy, will be in charge of Dragons for Friday’s game at home against Dubai Eagles as the Premiership season resumes.
“The Mike Phillips effect means that on Friday I’ll be fielding three full strength teams in Abu Dhabi, and two games against Eagles,” added Quinn.
“The club’s doubled in size this year with the kids section taking off. It’s been great all-round having him. It’s obviously sad but to see him go but life moves on and we wish him all the best with his academy, and hope for a good weekend.”
In Friday’s other games, Hurricanes host league leaders Bahrain, while second-placed Abu Dhabi Harlequins welcome Dubai Exiles.
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