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

Matt Jones 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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Leinster and Saracens set up titanic tussle in Champions Cup final

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European rugby has got the final it wanted. Four-time winners and defending champions Leinster against 2016 and 2017 winners Saracens in Newcastle on May 11.

Leinster’s 30-12 victory over Toulouse at a sun-kissed Aviva Stadium on Sunday was just as dominant as Saracens’ 32-16 triumph over Munster on Saturday.

It’s the final fans have craved between the winners for the last three years and the two best teams in the competition.

Intriguing match-ups involving internationals of the highest quality will be on show at St James’ Park, the most interesting of which will be the latest duel between Lions stars Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton.

But, it doesn’t end there, there’s also Mako Vunipola vs Tadhg Furlong in front row, James Ryan vs Maro Itoje at second row, Jack Conan vs Billy Vunipola in the back row and James Lowe vs Liam Williams out wide. Enough to keep any rugby enthusiast entertained for 80 minutes.

Having seen off Toulouse in Dublin, Leinster will be seeking to become the first team to win five Champions Cup titles, while Saracens will be bidding for their third crown in four years.

Leinster were simply too good for their French opponents, beating their off-loading game at source and dominating them aerially. With Sean O’Brien, Devin Toner and Sexton showing sterling form, the reigning champions will not want to relinquish their title too meekly.

Sarries meanwhile have been the stand-out team this year, winning their six pool matches with relative ease and then looking flawless against Glasgow and Munster in the knock-out stages.

Their aerial dominance set the template early on against Munster and they came through that contest relatively unscathed – winning by 16 points. Vunipola may milk the headlines for his try and general involvement, but Jamie George, Itoje and Farrell were also outstanding.

To win in Newcastle will require more class from either side. Leinster may not have scaled the same heights as 2018, but have only lost one game in all competitions this calendar year – against Glasgow two weeks ago – and have comfortably qualified for the PRO14 play-offs.

Both finalists are consistent, can combine power, accuracy and skill with composed minds, and it will undoubtedly take moments of magic to force a breakthrough against their titanic defensive qualities.

It will be a different contest to 12 months ago when Saracens came to Dublin for their quarter-final clash against Leinster and failed to perform in the second half after holding the bulk of possession and territory in the opening 40 minutes.

They targeted Sexton in the opening half, with George Kruis, Richard Wigglesworth and Itoje all putting in crunching hits to derail his composure on the ball.

But small moments win games and Leinster’s ferocity, power and huge defensive efforts helped them secure a 30-19 win and advance to the decider against Racing 92.

Unfortunately, this time around, the totemic Dan Leavy will be sidelined with a complex knee injury. The Ireland flanker was the star of the show in Leinster’s last win over Saracens and his absence will be sorely missed.

But his loss presents O’Brien with another opportunity to sparkle, the Carlow man is back to his best against Toulouse after a number of sub-par displays since the Six Nations.

With 19 days to go until the final, Leinster play Ulster next in the PRO14 next Saturday and Saracens are away to an improved Wasps side. The following weekend, Leinster have a rest week, while Saracens host top of the table Exeter.

With a play-off spot already secured, Mark McCall is likely to rest his key men in that fixture before one of the great finals of the decade. Star men are coming back into form at the right time. It will be a thrilling contest.

Given the personnel and the versatility they have shown, Leinster will go in as slight favourites, but Saracens, sprinkled with class, could shade it.

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Barrelhouse Rugby Club celebrate a blockbuster 2018/19 campaign

David Cooper 22/04/2019
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Ending on a high: Barrelhouse Rugby Club's end-of-season tournament

Barrelhouse Rugby Club’s season drew to a close with a special rugby 10s tournament to celebrate the team’s achievements throughout the 2018/19 campaign.

The event took place in Jebel Ali Shooting Club and Excellence center hosting 19 teams, a combination of men’s and vets sides. In total 43 games took part, playing on two pitches, with close to 300 players competing.

Barrelhouse members have been planning this tournament to the last minute, taking care of every single detail and requirement to host a tournament of this size, setting high standards for social rugby tournaments in the UAE and around the GCC in the process. With colorful testimonials from all the participating clubs, hundreds of rugby fans attended the tournament and were entertained off the field thanks to the sponsors tents set up around the matches.

The tournament ended in victory win for Team Moana who saw off Mediclinic Barrelhouse Warriors in the men’s finals, while in the Vets final, Mussafah Billy Goats were victorious over RockTape Barrelhouse Vandals. Barrelhouse management concluded the day with handing awards for winning teams and acknowledging the sponsors and the clubs for their efforts and participation.

RockTape was the main sponsor for this event providing kinesiology tapes and support on different fronts. Mediclinic provided an all-day ready ambulance with EMT medical care, while Up and Running set up a tent to take care of the players. Al Maya group provided, Pocari Sweat to keep all the players and fans well hydrated, as did Aghthia, who supplied the tournament with Alpin Water. Joseph Group sponsored the catering for all the teams and Redbull provided a huge tent for everyone to relax and enjoy food.

Founded in 1982 in the UAE, Barrelhouse Rugby Club was initially formed to compete at the Dubai Rugby 7’s, however, such is the popularity of the club, the team now has players from all over the world. The club recently expanded their academy to teach and encourage children to get involved in the sport.

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