It was an historic moment for the Community League Rocks, more familiarly and affectionately known as the Goats.
James Parker’s side head into the 2016/17 season as proud homeowners, having previously called Sharjah Wanderers’ pitch – some 85 km away – home in recent years.
The home team were held to nil against Conference side Knights, but the fact they were able to host their opponents at all was a leap forward for the club and hard-working chairman Mike Silvester.
“We played on it and the pitch held up well,” said the Englishman.
“We got beat but it wasn’t the point. It was just a case of us playing on there. Hopefully we can now get permission to put some cabins and containers up for changing rooms so we can get changed in air conditioned rooms instead of under gazebos.”
Travelling north to take on the Goats this season will certainly be an experience for away teams.
The unique experience will continue post-match too, where instead of showers, the sand can easily be removed by throwing yourself into the Arabian Gulf 200 metres from the pitch.
“Everyone got the sand off them by jumping in the sea at the end of the game. There’s not many pitches where you could do that,” said Silvester.
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Amblers have been ravaged in recent months, with nearly their entire contingent of talented Fijians departing the Garden City for greener pastures elsewhere.
Niko Volavola and Sakiusa Naisau joined the Henry Paul revolution at Jebel Ali Dragons. Esekaia Dranibota, Emosi Ratuvecanaua and Siri Laladidi have all been snapped up by Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
Teenage talent Jerry Kilikinasau, meanwhile, left to join double winners Dubai Exiles.
Amblers also saw head coach Andrew Rouvi step down to be replaced by South African Niekie van Blerk. Despite seeing last season’s squad torn apart, Emmett says Amblers must move on.
“We’re all passionate about rugby and sport and we want these guys to do well and enjoy their rugby, so I wish them all the best,” the Australian said of the departures.
“We’re changing a few things ourselves and we’re moving forward. We’re getting on with things.”
Van Blerk, the new man at the helm, embarked on a recruitment drive while back home in South Africa over the summer, which has reaped some reward.
Compatriots Brandan Rieck and Erwin Ambrose will arrive at the club just after Eid, while Fijian duo Sekonaia Kalou and Tevita Ratuva have also been acquired. Club captain Kini Natuna has also been retained.
“Niekie took the package to them when he was home in the summer and I’ve Skyped with them and told them about the rugby side, so we’re happy and positive,” added Emmett, who feels emerging from a season of struggle in 2015/16 will have helped the club.
Al Ain toiled, having made the step up to the Premiership. They won just only once all season, against Muscat in January, losing 17 of their 18 encounters across the West Asia Championship and UAE Premiership.
Their cause has been blighted further by the loss of several big names, but Emmett is dwelling on the positives.
“People have got to move on and we wish them all the best,” he said.
“We feel we’ve grown from last year, our first year in the Premiership. We soldiered our way through.
“We missed one game last season where we couldn’t get numbers for and there were lengthy discussions within the club and committee about staying or leaving the Premiership.
“Ultimately things don’t happen overnight. I spoke with chairmen at other clubs. With Exiles it took them a number of years to get where they are today, the force of UAE rugby.
“Our community is very different to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, it’s an older community where people have families. It will take us a different strategy to build our rugby but everybody’s positive about it.
“We’ve got a new head coach, we’ve restructured our whole set-up, especially for our senior men, and we’ve had some good numbers at training and our trial match against Dubai Hurricanes at the weekend, and everyone’s bonding well.
“We had 40 at the trial match at the weekend, 50 at training last week, so numbers are good. We’re holding our breath we can get visas sorted for guys coming in to replace our departed Fijian stars and it might be a veteran sides running on the first weekend against Saracens.”
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.”