Dubai Exiles flanker Matt Mills does not believe Abu Dhabi Harlequins have landed an early psychological blow ahead of the new domestic rugby season despite losing out on the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League title.
Exiles, double winners in 2015/16 after capturing the West Asia Championship and UAE Premiership, beat Sri Lanka’s Kandy 29-9 on Friday night.
However, they saw fierce rivals Quins take home the Asia crown thanks to their superior 56-17 result against Kandy earlier in the week. Mills, though, knows bigger things lie ahead for both sides in 2016/17.
“It’s important not to lose focus,” said an admittedly deflated Mills after Friday’s game at The Sevens.
“No [I don’t think Quins have landed a psychological blow]. We’ll take it as it is, a win, and we’ll go into next week and especially the week after when the league starts with our heads up and ready to play some rugby.
“It’s early September. We’ve got a good squad and we’re pushing for the league. [Kandy] like to play that open expansive sevens game, chuck it about, and with the ball slippy and not getting above five phases, it’s not the type of rugby we want to play.
“As the conditions get a bit better the ball will be less slippy and we’ll open up.”
Mills did admit he and his team-mates were disappointed to lose out on adding a third trophy to last season’s haul, but is aware the biggest takeaway is additional fitness as Exiles build towards a big campaign.
“We’re unhappy to lose out on another trophy, we’ve got our heads down but a win is a win, we’ll take it,” said the Englishman, whose side face Quins again in a friendly next week ahead of the new campaign starting on September 23.
“We went in with a mixed squad. Our idea was to try some new players and give them a run-out, maybe some of the boys who didn’t play last week against Quins. We’ll work to next week, our last game before the season starts.”
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The tournament kicked off in the Emirates two years ago and has grown in popularity ever since, with the third installment set to be the biggest yet.
Organised by Middle East Touch, the tournament will take place on Friday, October 21, offering the opportunity to bring together clubs and touch teams from around the UAE and the Gulf region as a whole.
This year 30 adult teams are set to compete across four different grades, including men’s, mixed, ladies and vets, while 2016 will see the debut of a youth tournament to run alongside the event.
The youth tournament will see boys and girls compete in one under-11 age group, while there will also be an U-9s mixed tournament.
The tournament is being held this year at Arabian Ranches Polo Club, with the facilities transforming into eight full size grass touch pitches enabling all games to be played in one day. Prize giving will take place at the end of the tournament and the day will conclude with a post-event dinner at the polo club.
The day beings at 09:00 with the finals scheduled to be played around 16:00.
Registration fees are Dh1,200 per adult team with up to 14 players allowed per squad, while youth team entry is Dh150.
A tenacious Kandy performance coupled with an error-strewn showing from Dubai Exiles handed the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League trophy to Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
Exiles claimed a relatively straightforward win but were unable to secure the 40-point margin of victory required to lift the title. Countless knock-ons contributed to a disjointed performance from Jacques Benade’s men at The Sevens.
The South African fielded an experimental team with talisman Durandt Gerber shifted along to inside centre, while the humid weather conditions also played a part.
The result, however, was as much down to the determination of the Sri Lankans, who did not wilt as they had done in the stifling heat of their encounter with Quins in Abu Dhabi three days earlier.
Gerber put the hosts ahead with a penalty after two minutes and then set up winger Matt Richards for the opening try with a delightful looping pass out wide to the Englishman who cut inside to touch down.
Scrum-half Alex Fowler, in for the absent Ed Armitage, looked lively in and around the breakdown and showed good awareness to dive over for Exiles’ second try from a ruck near the Kandy line as the hosts began to exert a grip on the game.
That hold, on the game or the ball, didn’t last though. Kandy scored nine unanswered points through the boot of outside half Arshad Tamaldeen, his first penalty a beauty from just inside his own half as half-time loomed.
He cut the gap to seven early in the second half before Exiles began to move through the gears. Skipper Glenn Moore finished off a fine move, holding off two tacklers to touch down under the posts following good work from debutant Jerry Kilicanasau.
The former Al Ain Amblers livewire signed with the club several weeks ago but was also guilty of several knock-ons as well as trying to offload in the tackle too much as Exiles chased the game.
Gerber, Michael Sole, Matt Mills, Alex Carlton Porter and Nathan Appleby also lost forward at vital moments as the trophy began to slowly slip away from last season’s double winners.
They did score again when Gerber threw a dummy to stroll over after Exiles had stolen a lineout with 10 minutes remaining. That meant they required three converted scores to take the title but their night was summed up when Jonny Rivlin, Kristian Stinson and Kris Hughes conspired to lose possession out wide when a try seemed imminent.