UAE Rugby Federation flying high with Emirates Airline sponsorship renewal

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Soaring: Emirates has extended its sponsorship of the UAE’s rugby teams.

Emirates will continue to sponsor the men’s, women’s and Under-20’s national 7’s and 15’s teams, and also continue as the UAE RF’s official airline sponsor.

Qais Al Dhalai, UAE Rugby secretary general, said: “We are very proud to have the commitment from Emirates for another five years, which will assist us in our goal of bettering our standing in Asia Rugby rankings, and to bring to UAE residents the enjoyment of watching more competitive games.”

Apollo Perelini’s senior men’s 15s team won Division II of the Asia Rugby Championship in May, earning promotion to Division I as well as making them eligible to compete in the 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifying rounds.

Sheikh Majid Al Mualla, Emirates’ vice president of commercial operations, added: “Emirates has been the official airline of the UAE RF since 2011 and we are proud to see the men’s 15s potentially qualifying for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.”

While remaining popular with the UAE western expatriate community, rugby has also made gains in promoting the game to the Emirati population, evidenced by the Community League’s debut last season and the historic fielding of the first all-Emirati 15s side.

Al Dhalai added: “It is one of our strategic goals to have an all-Emirati UAE national test side by 2021. Emirates’ renewed sponsorship will assist with realising this goal.”

Emirates has also been the title sponsor of the Dubai Rugby Sevens for over 20 years which has established itself as one of the best on the HSBC Sevens World Series circuit.

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Big dreams for new Abu Dhabi Saracens coach

Matt Jones 17/07/2016
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The man in charge: Winston Cowie (c).

New Abu Dhabi Saracens head coach Winston Cowie has set the bar high by admitting he wants to win the West Asia Premiership in his debut campaign.

Sarries shocked the Gulf by being crowned champions of west Asia in 2014/15, beating Doha 26-20 in an epic clash in Qatar.

They remained competitive last year but were usurped as champions by Dubai Exiles, finishing third in the West Asia Championship, while also claiming fourth place in the UAE Premiership.

Fixtures for both competitions will be combined in 2016/17, acting as double-headers, with both to be decided by finals between the top two sides, and Cowie has targeted bringing some silverware back to the Al Ghazal trophy cabinet at the end of the campaign.

“I am incredibly excited by the opportunity to work with one of the Gulf’s top sides,” said Cowie, who the club revealed earlier this month would take over from last season’s joint head and player coaches, Stephen Hamilton and Craig Nutt.

“I am particularly looking forward to working with the forwards, harnessing the power of this beast of a pack, and working hard with the team to win the West Asia Premiership this year, in what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive Gulf competitions ever.

“With the excellent group of players we have we will be working hard in the pre-season and my challenge will be to ensure that week in week out we are a consistently physical team that gets results.

“The team has some of the best players in the Gulf in it in their respective positions – the likes of Jaen Botes, Craig Nutt, Steve Hamilton, Matt Hutchings, Lehan Koekemoer, Rickus Swart and Murray Reason.”

New Zealander Cowie was part of the Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors who travelled to Madagascar and the Seychelles on a charitable tour earlier this year.

There he met Hamilton and club captain Mike Pugliese and said speaking to them had really got him excited for the new season.

“Having spoken to a few of the gents, there appears to be real hunger at Sarries for a big 2016-2017,” added Cowie.

The 33-year-old has been in the UAE for three years, having spent three years in Qatar where he was club captain before a knee injury forced him to retire five years ago.

He was a forwards coach with capital city rivals Harlequins in 2014 as they won 10 out of 10 games in the Gulf Top Six.

Cowie revealed he was attracted to the community atmosphere at Sarries. “It is a club which is on the rise,” he said. “I attended the end of season club dinner with my wife Lucy and was really impressed by it. It was at the dinner that we started chatting about the prospect of coaching, and having spent the last week with Steve and Mike, both outstanding gents, I am really looking forward to it.”

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Morton leaves Harlequins to join French side Trelissac

Matt Jones 14/07/2016
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Going places: Pieter Morton.

Pieter Morton says he dreams of one day playing in France’s top flight after he accepted a contract with Federale 1 side Trelissac.

The bullocking South African centre has earned a 12-month deal with the team who topped Pool 7 of Federale 2 last season, earning promotion to France’s third tier. He will start pre-season with the club, based near Bordeaux, on August 1.

The move is the latest step in the career of the talented 24-year-old, who spent last season with Abu Dhabi Harlequins having made a sensational switch across the UAE capital from Saracens last July.

“The ultimate aim is to end up in a French Top 14 squad, that is a dream I want to achieve in the next four or five years. That’s something to work to the moment I step off the plane,” said Morton, who played with Pumas and Blue Bulls as a youngster.

“France is known for some of the best club rugby, it’s where players want to end up. It’s been a dream to go to Europe. I think France suits me. It’s physical and aggressive and I think I will like it.

“It’s two leagues below the Top 14. I wanted to go where there’s competition. I want to be out of my depth, to fight for the jersey. I’ve just turned 24, the time is now to make my big break in my career.”

It was an injury-ravaged 2015/16 campaign for Morton, who underwent knee surgery in June and didn’t feature for Quins until January. However, it was obviously enough for Trelissac, with several French clubs said to have been watching Morton prior to his switch from Sarries last summer.

Moving on: Morton.

Moving on: Morton.

“The opportunity came at the right time,” added Morton. “It was a big setback to be out of rugby for nine months, it was a tough, emotional time for me, but also motivational. It’s difficult to come back the way you were before. The more I played I started to get the confidence back and the chance has come at the right moment and now I can move forward.”

It is the end of a 22-month stint in the Emirates, during which time he helped Sarries win the 2014/15 West Asia Cup against Doha. He praised the Abu Dhabi duo and has not ruled out a future return to the country he still has hopes of one day representing internationally.

“Both clubs have been amazing to me,” said Morton, who has also played Currie Cup rugby for the Cheetahs.

“We won the West Asia Cup with Sarries and that’s a memory I will cherish. Harlequins is a massive family, a club that looks after each other. Rory Greene and Jeremy Manning, everyone there, supported me through the injury. My 22 months in the UAE was something I’ll never forget.

“To play for the UAE was in my mind, it’s something I want to do. I won’t say I’ll never return to Abu Dhabi. Maybe I’ll get some caps for the UAE before I retire. Maybe I’ll be back one day qualify for the national team. You never know.”

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