Having won just once in 18 games last season, you would think the task ahead of Al Ain Amblers for the 2016/17 campaign would be rather simple – win more.
However, the summer has been far from serene in the Garden City. Amblers have been decimated on the playing front, losing six of their talented Fijian contingent, who have scattered across three opposition teams.
Emosi Ratuvecanaua, Sirilo Laladidi and Esekaia Dranibota have all signed for Abu Dhabi Harlequins, Niko Volavola and Sakiusa Naisau have gone to Jebel Ali Dragons and UAE sevens star Jerry Kilicanasau left for double winners Dubai Exiles a few weeks ago.
Andrew Rouvi also stepped down, replaced by the returning Niekie Van Blerk. The South African admits his side have been depleted, but warns that opponents will write them off at their peril.
“It’s been a difficult start, it’s the worst preparation for the new season,” admitted Van Blerk.
“We’re struggling as we’ve lost six players. Despite the problems we’ve had people shouldn’t underestimate us.
“We will be better prepared in terms of structure and discipline. I think one game last year we had 32 penalties so that’s a loss straight away. If we’re better prepared then the quality will come into the equation later on.
“I don’t think you’ll see the real Al Ain until maybe October or early November, although I hope you’ll see the change in discipline right from the start, and a competitive scrum and lineout so we can at least retain our own ball.”
Despite poor results last year, Al Ain were never found wanting in terms of entertainment. Tries were scored aplenty and seven bonus points were secured in seven West Asia Championship matches.
And Van Blerk has promised that exciting brand of running rugby isn’t going anywhere.
“Training has been going well and we’re in a building phase,” added the coach.
“We’re going to still play total rugby and we’re still going to put everything on the line and go out to win. We might not have the runners we used to but we’re here to play rugby.
“I’m a big believer in everyone from one to 15 handling the ball. It’s not just about a player scrimmaging or doing the lineout it’s competing one to 15.”
Having being crowned champions of west Asia in 2014/15, last term yielded no silverware for Abu Dhabi Saracens.
They competed commendably though following the departure of head coach Ali Thompson, with centre Stephen Hamilton and prop Craig Nutt filling the void as joint player-coaches.
Sarries finished fourth in the WAC and came third, just three points of city rivals Harlequins, in the UAE Premiership.
New coach Winston Cowie’s team have been left without a pre-season opponent, with many refusing to face Sarries, except for Quins and Dubai Exiles who were, nevertheless, engaged in the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League tournament.
UAE sevens international Adel Al Hendi, signed from capital city rivals Quins, is raring to go for the trip to Al Ain Amblers.
“I’m pretty excited to have a run as it will be my first game for a while,” said Al Hendi.
“I’m looking forward to chucking on a Sarries jersey, and we’re all ready to go. Trainings have been class, there’s a great vibe within the team, and hopefully we’ll go out and do the business on Friday.”
Nutt, who will be able to focus on just playing duties this season, added: “We were pretty disappointed that no-one would play us in pre-season, it’s not ideal, but we have kept our heads down and trained hard and everyone is really excited to get the season under way.
“It’s been a long off-season and I’m chomping at the bit to get out there. I’m excited to see how we can do now we have a coach on the sidelines that can see the bigger picture.”
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