UAE Conference champions Sharjah Wanderers to remain in second tier

Matt Jones - Editor 23:46 27/07/2016
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Sharjah will defend their title this season.

The club triumphed 27-26 against Jebel Ali Dragons 2nds in a memorable Conference Top 6 final in March – in which they wiped out an early 16-0 deficit – but the club had said prior to the game and afterwards that it would take time to decide whether or not they would take the daunting step up.

Wanderers chairman Shane Breen said confirmed this week that the club will not make the step up and instead remain in the Conference for the 2016/17 season and build their squad in the hope of entering the top echelon of UAE rugby in the ensuing years.

“We’re staying in the conference next year,” revealed Breen.

“We felt that whilst we developed significantly last season the step up to the Premiership would be too much at this stage and we wanted to develop our squad further before making any move.

“It’s definitely something that we’re working towards though.”

Although it would have been easy to get swept up in the euphoria of an epic triumph against Dragons, Sharjah need only look at Al Ain Amblers for an example of just how wide the chasm is from Conference to Premiership.

Amblers swept all before them in the Conference two seasons ago, going the entire season unbeaten and steamrollering opponents as they barged their way into the top flight.However, Andrew Rouvi’s men lost all 10 games on their return to the big time. In fact, their only victory in 18 games laast season came in a 34-23 win against Muscat in the West Asia Championship in February.

One of the keys to survival is depth. Amblers were hit by a lack of discipline, with their early fixtures littered with yellow cards.

Injuries also hit hard and the fact that Sharjah don’t have a second team was a key factor in their decision.

“We would hate to have gone up and come crashing back down again. We need a 2nd XV first,” added Breen.

“The strategy for this season will be to build on what we achieved last year, recruiting more players in order to create more depth.”

The new Conference campaign is a little under two months away and Breen admits things will largely stay the same at the club.
Nic Walters, the Welshman who led them to the 2015/16 title, will remain as head coach.

Former UAE international Jonny Greenwood returns to the playing ranks and will take over the captaincy from Luke Banks.

Training will be held at The Sevens on Tuesday nights. Sharjah open up the defence of their title on September 16 at home to Dubai Sharks.

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