Abu Dhabi Quins pay tribute to “true rugby legend” Mike McFarlane as coach departs

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Mike McFarlane (r) celebrates winning the UAE Premiership, Quins' fifth and final trophy of a stunning 2016/17, with brothers Sam (c) and Ben Bolger.

Abu Dhabi Harlequins have lauded Mike McFarlane as a “true rugby legend” after his departure from the capital city club was confirmed.

The Englishman – a former Quins player – is believed to have stepped down from his role for family reasons.

He took over the Zayed Sports City club in the summer of 2015 after New Zealand former Munster and Newcastle Falcons full-back Jeremy Manning departed.

A meticulous tactician and relentless pursuer of perfection, McFarlane oversaw Quins’ rise back to prominence in UAE rugby and memorably steered the club to a clean sweep of major trophies in the 2016/17 season.

The quintuple three seasons ago included lifting the West Asia Premiership, West Asia Cup, UAE Premiership, Dubai Sevens and Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League titles, after which McFarlane revealed he had considered leaving for the second time, having first entertained the thought in the summer of 2016.

Mike McFarlane was named UAE Rugby Coach of the Year in 2016/17.

Mike McFarlane was named UAE Rugby Coach of the Year in 2016/17.

Despite a raft of player departures and the bitter loss of talismanic captain Ben Bolger due to forced retirement on the eve of last season, Quins remained competitive but lost four of the five trophies from their quintuple season.

Quins paid warm tribute to McFarlane in a statement released on Friday, saying: “Farewell to our head coach Michael McFarlane, a true rugby legend.

“The committee would like to thank Mike for his role within the club and wishes him every success in his new endeavours. We would like to thank his family, Mandy and Madison, for their patience and understanding whilst he fulfilled the head coach role.

“Mike was appointed senior men’s head coach at Quins for the 2015/16 season. Since his appointment our teams have won the UAE Premiership, the Conference and Community League’s, the West Asia Cup and Premiership, the West Asia Club Championship, the Dubai 7’s and Eden Park 7’s.

“The 2016/17 season was his most successful with a clean sweep of all competitions for the first team with the second team also winning the league.”

It was feared Quins would struggle this season with another wave of player exits, but McFarlane has led them to second in the West Asia Premiership – they and leaders Bahrain are way out in front of their rivals – although they were defeated 24-14 in the Dubai Sevens final by Dubai Hurricanes.

Quins chairman Andy Cole added: “Mike leaves us part way through the 2018/19 season but he leaves us in very good shape, topping the UAE Premiership by a significant points lead and just behind Bahrain in the West Asia competition, and I know the players are motivated to finish the season strong for Mike.

Mike McFarlane (r) and Dubai Exiles coach Jacques Benade worked together for the UAE under Apollo Perelini last May. Pic courtesy of Alex Johnson (www.yallarugby.com).

Mike McFarlane (r) and Dubai Exiles coach Jacques Benade worked together for the UAE under Apollo Perelini last May. Pic courtesy of Alex Johnson (www.yallarugby.com).

“Mike was a true ambassador for Abu Dhabi Harlequins at all levels and upheld the club’s “one club” ethos. From mini and youth, to ladies and senior men he supported all areas.

“He was recognised last season for going above and beyond his remit by being awarded the chairmen’s special recognition award. Mike has certainly raised the bar for coaches across the region and will be truly missed on and off the pitch. We wish Mike and his family well for the future.”

McFarlane revealed on the eve of the 2018/19 season that he had once again intended to step down in the summer, but was persuaded by the club to remain at the helm for one more season.

“The boys are incredibly persuasive,” he joked last June, after he and the club stated he would lead Quins for a fourth campaign.

Quins and Bahrain were due to meet at Zayed Sports City for a top of the table Premiership clash at the time of writing on Friday.

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Eddie Jones considering left-field thinking for England to succeed in World Cup year

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Raising eyebrows: Eddie Jones.

Eddie Jones believes audacious innovation is required if England are to succeed in World Cup year with Jack Nowell’s conversion from wing to openside flanker just one idea under serious consideration.

Jones will enter the looming Six Nations armed with the conviction that only left-field thinking, in combination with a strong command of the basics, can challenge the modern game’s highly-structured defences.

Selecting a ninth forward is a possibility, but more likely is the elevation of versatile Exeter three-quarter Nowell into the back row where Jones predicts he would thrive as a hybrid flanker due to his skill-set.

Moving in the opposite direction might be opensides Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, who the Australian believes have the athleticism to play a number of positions in the backline.

“Jack’s a great player and is going to be the new breed of player. He’s definitely an option at seven,” said Jones, who insists the change could happen in time for the Six Nations opener against Ireland on February 2.

Jack Nowell is versatile enough to switch from wing to flanker, claims Eddie Jones.

Jack Nowell is versatile enough to switch from wing to flanker, claims Eddie Jones.

“He has great ball-carrying, great tackling skill and puts his head over the ball. He’s a tough little bloke. He’s a great option for us – he can play wing, 13, 15 and seven.

“The game has changed. A game used to last 80 minutes, now it lasts 100 minutes. The next change is you will have players who can play in the backs and forwards.

“Jack Nowell is the one who stands out. Tom Curry and Sam Underhill could be the opposite – they are as quick as Nowell and could play in a number of positions on the field.

“There are great opportunities in the game to change it and we are looking at those opportunities. Maybe one of the opportunities is nine forwards.

“There is no reason why you can’t play nine forwards. The ninth forward could stand on the blindside wing. It’s going to happen. The game is going towards it. Exciting, isn’t it?

“The game has become so orthodox so we have to look at opportunities to change, while being really good at the core things.”

Jones has named a 35-man training squad for the seismic opener against Ireland in Dublin that is bristling with destructive ball-carrying options.

Billy and Mako Vunipola return after missing the autumn series with a broken arm and calf problem respectively and will add firepower up front, while centres Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi will have more game time under their belts after battling long-term fitness issues. Also back is Joe Launchbury, who underwent knee surgery.

“Having them won’t change our game, but will change our ability to dent the line,” Jones said.

“Being able to dent the line is a massive part of the game at the moment. Everyone is defending with 13 or 14 in the line and the spaces between defenders are smaller because of that.

Owen Farrell and England kick-off their Six Nations campaign against Ireland on February 2.

Owen Farrell and England kick-off their Six Nations campaign against Ireland on February 2.

“Therefore your ability to work those space is more difficult. If you can have runners that dent the line like the Vunipolas or Launchburys then it allows you to gain momentum.”

One name missing from the 35 that will depart for pre-Six Nations training camp in Portugal on Wednesday is co-captain Dylan Hartley, who has not played for Northampton since December 21 due to a knee injury.

He is in danger of missing the majority of the championship and has been tentatively penciled in for a return in the third round against Wales, but the veteran hooker could yet need surgery.

“The first thing is he has to get healthy – he’s not healthy yet. Then he’s got to get fit,” Jones said.

“He’s 32 and he’s probably played 300 games for Northampton and he’s played 97 times for England, plus a few for Worcester, so it’s just wear and tear. That’s all it is.

“He might eventually need an operation to clean it up, but at this stage they’re doing what they call passive rehab and we’re confident that he should be fit to play in the Six Nations.”

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Warren Gatland could coach British & Irish Lions for third time in 2021

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Warren Gatland has overseen two successful Lions tours.

Warren Gatland has revealed he has held “informal conversations” over coaching the British & Irish Lions again in 2021.

The New Zealander has led the Lions on their last two tours, a 2-1 series win over Australia in 2013 and a 1-1 draw in New Zealand in 2017, and intends to leave his role as Wales boss after this year’s World Cup in Japan.

Asked at a Welsh Rugby Union event at in Cardiff about the possibility of leading the Lions again, Gatland was quoted by walesonline.co.uk as saying: “Maybe. I’ve had a couple of informal conversations and that’s all it’s been at the moment.

“What could work out brilliantly is to finish with Wales after the World Cup, have a little break and then potentially do the Lions for 12 months heading into 2021.

“Ireland are going to have a new coach, Wales are going to have a new coach, England will have a new coach, you’ve got Gregor Townsend in Scotland.

The Lions drew 1-1 with the All Blacks in 2017.

The Lions drew 1-1 with the All Blacks in 2017.

“It means that one of those countries could lose their coach for 12 months.

“So it (Gatland leading the Lions) may appeal to the four home nations, but there’s a lot of things that have to happen before then.

“There’s potential there.”

A Lions spokesperson told Press Association Sport: “The selection/recruitment process for 2021 has not been agreed yet. There will undoubtedly be a number of candidates, but this is not a process that has started as yet.”

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