When UAE rugby fans turn on their television sets and tune into the Rugby World Cup next year, there may well be a face they recognise staring back at them.
Former dual code New Zealand and England international Henry Paul left his post as Jebel Ali Dragons head coach in January to work once again alongside former Wales flanker Kingsley Jones who is in charge of Canada.
The pair had previously worked together with Russia from 2011-14 and Jones approached his friend earlier this year to help him at the America’s Rugby Championship (ARC).
Suitably impressed with his input, as well as perhaps by Paul leading the Dragons to their first trophy in four years with last season’s West Asia Premiership triumph, the 44-year-old left to become Jones’ assistant full-time in May.
And Canada secured the final place at next year’s World Cup in Japan after beating Hong Kong 27-10 in their repechage tournament on Saturday morning.
Hong Kong needed a bonus-point win and to deny their opponents anything from the game if they were to advance. But Glasgow Warriors winger DTH van der Merwe scored two tries while 38-year-old hooker Ray Barkwill also crossed the line.
Gordon McRorie added three conversions and two penalties to earn the Canucks an appearance at a ninth consecutive World Cup.
They will now go into Pool B for the tournament alongside defending champions New Zealand, two-time winners South Africa, Italy and Namibia.
Dragons chairman Stuart Quinn is predicting a raft of club members might well not be looking at flights and accommodation in Japan in a bid to support their former coach, who will eye the host nation’s epic victory over the Springboks in 2015 as inspiration for the Canucks.
“We’re obviously immensely proud of his achievement,” said Dragons chairman Quinn.
“Next is to try and get a win if possible in a tough group. Pulling a Japan would be awesome.”
The qualification process for lower tier nations, which began in St Vincent and the Grenadines in March 2016, has involved 188 matches across 994 days with 10,355 points scored in total by the 71 teams. All the teams began with a dream of playing in Japan, but only the USA, Uruguay, Russia, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Namibia and now Canada were able to secure qualification.
“He’s missed hugely by all of us at the Dragons but we felt we couldn’t hold him back any longer,” said a grateful Quinn.
“He was destined for more. We’re just glad he’s topped a West Asia Premiership success with qualification to the biggest stage. A few of the boys are going to head out and support him next year, while some may even be digging around for Canadian grandparents.”
Schalk Brits has admitted he came out of retirement to chase his World Cup dream and end his rugby career with no regrets.
Evergreen hooker Brits brought down the curtain on nine glittering years with Saracens in the summer, and with it his 11-cap South Africa stint.
But the 37-year-old has since been coaxed into making a big U-turn, and could now even take on England at Twickenham on Saturday.
Brits has delayed his plans to combine university study with a move into the business world to chase selection for next year’s World Cup in Japan, and thanked those who have helped make that possible.
“Firstly it was a short-term return; I thought my studies would start in September, then work in August, and June was one month off,” said Brits.
“I went on holiday with my wife to Ibiza anyway, we had chill-out time and that was a bit of a sabbatical so I thought, ‘why not join the Boks for three weeks?’
The Springboks arrived in two groups in London. The second, bigger group arrived at their Kensington hotel a few minutes ago. #CastleLagerOutgoingTour@MTNza @ASICS_ZA #LoveRugby pic.twitter.com/WOffX1FggX— South African Rugby (@Springboks) 28 October 2018
“Then the discussions followed and six months later we only have eight months left (until the World Cup).
“From a studying point of view to do it when I’m 37 or 38 there’s not much difference. The guy that’s offered me a job said, ‘what’s the difference between 37 and 38?’.
“He said, ‘you regret the things you don’t do’. And that’s certainly one of those things that fits.
“And with (South Africa boss) Rassie Erasmus’ blessing and the way he wants to try to keep me involved, it has made it quite an easy fit.
“There’s a big potential for this side, I think we’re growing at a rapid pace.
“When we started in June we didn’t have a lot of caps and I’m surprised how it’s gone.
“And I think we can improve even more from where we are now.”
Malcolm Marx is likely to start at hooker against England on Saturday, leaving Brits potentially battling it out for a seat on the bench.
The ever-likeable Brits moved quickly to lay high praise at Marx’s feet, warning England to expect a tough battle against the Lions’ gritty front-rower.
“Not only is he a great player he’s a great team guy, and he adds value on and off the pitch,” said Brits of Marx.
“Everybody can see what he does on the pitch, but off it he’s immensely important to how our team functions.
“Physically he’s gifted: a big, strong and quick bloke. But his strongest attribute is his mindset.
“He’s got a spirit of learning and growing, and if you can have that you can always improve as a player.
“He makes one of the highest amounts of turnovers in our team, so to have that kind of player making that amount of turnovers, that says something about his capability around the ruck.
“He’s given all teams from Super (Rugby) level to international level a headache.
“I’ve always said from when I started playing rugby that your hooker can be your extra loose forward.
“If you’ve got a hooker on the blindside that can slow down the game and steal the ball, that’s tough to play against.
“Nobody wants to play with slow ball, it’s always quick ball, and that’s why I think the role of the hooker has changed in the last 15 years.”
Marland Yarde’s hopes of regaining his England place in time for next year’s World Cup have been ended by the season-ending knee injury sustained in Sale’s victory over Newcastle on Saturday.
A scan has revealed that Yarde ruptured the ACL and MCL ligaments of his left knee and also dislocated the joint while making a tackle in the closing stages of the Gallagher Premiership clash at AJ Bell Stadium.
Press Association Sport understands the 26-year-old wing has been ruled out for the rest of the 2018/19 campaign and is targeting a return during pre-season next summer.
Yarde has been frozen out of recent England squads after falling behind new additions Chris Ashton and Joe Cokanasiga in Eddie Jones’ wing pecking order and has not been capped since the tour to Argentina in June 2017.
However, the former Harlequins back had impressed in an otherwise disappointing start to the season by the Sharks and could have forced himself back on to the fringes of contention but for Saturday’s horrific injury.
A visit to see a specialist on Tuesday will outline a timeframe for surgery and the ensuing treatment plan, with the prognosis at this stage a minimum lay-off of six months.
It is a blow to Sale, who will at least be able to give Ashton his club debut in the Challenge Cup clash with Connacht on October 20 following completion of his seven-week ban for a tip tackle made during pre-season.
However, should Ashton be involved in England’s autumn series, that could be his only contribution to Sale until December, further straining the club’s depleted back three resources.
The Sharks have at least been able to strengthen their limited loosehead options by signing former Wasps and Leicester prop Tom Bristow from French second division team Narbonne.