Louie Tonkin will end Bahrain reign with stint as UAE coach Apollo Perelini's assistant in Thailand

Matt Jones - Editor 18:55 23/04/2019
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Tonkin (back row, 2nd l) led Bahrain to the West Asia Cup title in 2018 - it was a first trophy for the club in eight years.

Louie Tonkin says it is “an honour” to be part of Apollo Perelini’s coaching staff as the UAE prepare return to the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) next month.

The Bahrain coach has transformed the west Asia outfit during three years in charge and will sign off with a role as Perelini’s assistant in Thailand before returning to the UK in June where he has accepted a position working in the Exeter Chiefs’ academy.

The 35-year-old Welshman will work alongside Dubai Exiles counterpart Jacques Benade with the international squad – the South African former Emerging Springboks fly-half was part of Perelini’s coaching staff last year alongside former Abu Dhabi Harlequins coach Mike McFarlane.

But that was merely for one friendly against a touring Gibraltar team – the UAE Rugby Federation pulled the national side out of the 2018 ARC Division I competition.

They will now return to the continental stage, in Division II, where they face Guam in a semi-final play-off on May 15 in Bangkok for a place in the final three days later, where they will come up against either hosts Thailand or Kazakhstan, if successful, and a chance to earn promotion.

“It just happened really,” said Tonkin.

“I was on a course with Apollo last year and got to know him a little bit. A brilliant bloke and we kept in touch. He sent me a message about three weeks ago and asked if I wanted to join his coaching set-up for the Asia Rugby Championship in May. I was delighted to get involved.

“It’s the only chance of international exposure out in this region and it’s an honour to be involved. Hopefully I can be part of something special out in Thailand and we can get promoted.

“It’s great for me personally because it’s different rugby. These are the guys I’ve coached against and have thought highly of and respected over the last few years. To go to training sessions and work with them now is different and special. And it’s another learning experience for me.

“It’s also great to work with some top coaches. Me and (Adam, Bahrain captain and player-coach) Wallace out in Bahrain are on our own and Wallace is a player first and foremost so it’s nice to work in a team of three.

“Apollo is a great guy and a great coach and Jacques is someone I’ve had a great rivalry with over the last three years. He’s a coach I highly respect and a brilliant guy and it’s nice to all be on the same page, with similar beliefs and philosophies.”

Tonkin has transformed the west Asia outfit during three years in charge – Bahrain’s West Asia Cup triumph last season was a maiden trophy in eight years for a club that had found itself in the wilderness in more than just geographical terms in recent years.

This year they followed that historic success with even more glory, Tonkin leading them to an utterly dominant West Asia Premiership campaign in which they lost just once in 15 games – winning 14 – and finished 13 points ahead of Quins and scored 72 more points than any opponents.

They topped it off by lifting the league title with a 23-21 win over Dubai Exiles in the final.

Apollo Perelini will lead the UAE back into the ARC next month.

Apollo Perelini will lead the UAE back into the ARC next month.

He leaves with his reputation enhanced and Bahrain firmly engrained among the elite of Middle East rugby, and will now get to leave with a senior international coaching mark on his resume.

“It’s something I’m chuffed to be involved with,” he added.

“Back in Wales I’ve been involved with international age grade teams, worked with the women’s game but I’ve never been involved with international senior level men’s rugby so it’s another learning experience, working with Apollo and Jacques.

“I never intended working with the UAE coming over to Bahrain but the opportunity arose and it’s something I’m delighted to do before I leave.

“I showed interest in doing it the last few years but Apollo’s had some great coaches work with him the last couple of years. The opportunity’s come up now so it’s great to be involved.”

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