Winston Cowie has been hugely encouraged by the hunger shown by his Abu Dhabi Saracens players in his first few weeks as head coach and expects the club to be back challenging for silverware this season.
Sarries won the West Asia Cup in 2014/15 but struggled to maintain a challenge for honours last season, trailing in the wake of capital city neighbours Harlequins and double winners Dubai Exiles.
New Zealander Cowie, 33, was appointed as new Sarries coach in July and is excited about the challenge ahead of him.
“We are a couple of weeks into pre-season and there seems to be a real buzz around Al Ghazal,” said Cowie.
“I was more than pleasantly surprised when I met the guys – blokes with strong characters first and foremost and excellent rugby players to boot.
“I have never met a bunch of guys quite like it. Some of them like Jaen Botes, Lehan Koekemoer and Garth van Niekirk have fearsome reputations on the pitch, and rightly so, but they are equally the most welcoming to newbies and the nicest blokes off it.”
Domestic rugby in the Emirates is set to be the most competitive and exciting ever in 2016/17 with the rise of Exiles under Jacques Benade.
Quins ran them close for both the UAE Premiership and West Asia Championship last year and will be desperate to go one better.
Jebel Ali Dragons, meanwhile, have appointed former dual code rugby international Henry Paul as head coach and are expected to be much improved.
Dubai Hurricanes announced a partnership with Super Rugby giants Wellington Hurricanes and should also be revitalised.
With everyone around them making great strides to improve, it is imperative Sarries are not left behind, something Cowie is acutely aware of.
“Among the 50 or so players we are getting to training there seems to be a real hunger to have a big season this year,” said Cowie, who praised the job predecessors Craig Nutt and Stephen Hamilton did as joint player coaches last season.
“There is certainly the experience there. This is the third year the core of this side has been together, with 13 of the players who won the West Asian Championship in 2015 involved and hungry for more.
“Ali Thompson did a great job with them that year and Steve and Craig last year kept us near the top.
“This year the guys want to win once again. We are training very hard but making sure we are having fun and that everyone feels part of the community culture that is Abu Dhabi Saracens.
“We are building nicely towards the club’s first matches on Friday. We will take it one game at a time. What I will say is that our opposition should expect physical matches from Sarries. We will be fit and motivated.
“It’s been great that Adel Al Hendi, one of the UAE’s up and coming stars, has joined us. With the likes of Jaen, Lehan, Craig, Stephen, Rickus Swart and Garth, we have in my view the top players in their position in the Gulf.”