Dubai Hurricanes second XV’s UAE Conference final victory was built on the intensity of their preparation, according to the men who helped achieve it.
That word ‘intensity’ was not far from anyone’s lips as they dissected exactly how the Canes second string got the better of an Al Ain Amblers side who had beaten them 45-13 just four weeks previously.
According to second-row Mark Weissenborn that result had been a “rude awakening” for the Dubai side and their 23-17 victory was built on tries from Chris Burch and Paul Hindshaw, and 13 points from the boot of fly-half Alan Foster.
Captain Ian Greenhough told Sport360°: “I’m really proud of the way we bounced back from that performance after losing to them so heavily. I’d never been in a dressing room like it to be honest before the game, with the noise and the feeling that was in there.
“We trained hard on the Monday and Wednesday and had a real focus on defence and having a tight game.
“We took passing shields down and we had quite a bit of contact in the warm-up which isn’t something we normally do but we wanted to make sure we were switched on and knew what was coming at us.”
Try-scorer Burch added: “Our intensity was completely different. We said before the game that if we wanted to win this game we had to blow them off the park and we came out with all guns firing which I think stunned them a bit.”
The preparation certainly paid off for the visitors as two converted tries early in the second half put them in control of proceedings and helped them build a 23-10 lead.
However, after they had spurned a penalty opportunity to extend their lead to 16 points, and Al Ain had hit back with a second try of their own, the Hurricanes were grateful for an excellent saving tackle from full-back Steve Smith.
The veteran UAE international was playing his final game for the seconds before he heads back to the UK over the summer.
“Right up until the final whistle, it was hard work. The game wasn’t won,” Hurricanes seconds coach Robbie Cameron, who had been to scout Al Ain in Sharjah the week before, said.
“I think you’ve got to give respect to Al Ain because they didn’t give up.”
It is now hoped that the victory can help lift the club, with the Hurricanes first team looking to finish their Gulf Top Six campaign with two wins that could yet see them sneak into next month’s grand final.
Cameron, who expects six or seven of his players to be in contention for the first-team’s weekend trip to Abu Dhabi Harlequins, added: “I’ve told the players training is not over, games are not over, so let’s get up to support the firsts.”
Dubai Exiles coach Jan Venter believes his side’s Gulf Conference success is a sign that the once formidable club are heading back in the right direction.
Exiles clinched Gulf rugby’s second- tier trophy with a nail-biting 35-33 win over Muscat in Oman last Friday, thanks to tries from Jack Stapley, Jason Murphy (2), Scott Hutton and Adrian Dennis.
However they were forced to deal with an absent referee, a hostile crowd and then a missed conver-sion late in the game that would have denied them the win that took them above Xodus Wasps on points difference.
The Dubai club have lost just once since the turn of the year – a 22-18 defeat to Wasps – and Venter believes they have put the disappointment of missing out on Gulf Top Six qualfication well and truly behind them.
“It’s nice,” Venter said of their success. “I said last year when I took over that we needed some silverware this year and we have got it.
“The nice thing is I’ve built a coreof guys coming into the second part of the season and I could definitely see them improving with every game, playing together as a team more than individuals. I believe that I’ll have those core guys playing into next season.”
Venter admitted that having the assistant referee step in at the last minute for his missing colleague was not conducive to a flowing game.
“The referee didn’t pitch up for what reason I don’t know, so the AR took the game and it was not the nicest rugby game I ever saw,” he added.
“There was a lot of barging and off-the-ball play and at Muscat as well there are no barriers next to the pitch so at one stage some of the spectators were on the pitch arguing with the referee, intimidating my players so it definitely wasn’t easy.”
In such circumstances, Exiles were just happy to get off the park with the win.
The South African coach added: “It was a win, it was nice and the guys celebrated nicely coming back. I’m happy with the way the season Success: Exiles finished with a trophy. ended.”
Abu Dhabi Saracens fly-half Josh Sharp hopes his month-long loan spell in the UAE can provide the springboard to glory back home at club and international level.
Sharp, 18, has helped rejuvenate the Gulf Top Six outfit since joining from English Premiership giants Saracens on a temporary basis alongside interim player-coach James Tirrell.
The half-back pair performed a key role in AD Saracens first-ever GT6 win – against Dubai Hurricanes – in their first match for the club, then helped the bottom-placed side to a creditable 40-18 loss to runaway leaders Abu Dhabi Harlequins last Friday.
And England youth international Sharp is convinced his time in the Middle East will boost his future aspirations.
“I want to go on and play for Saracens and England, but you take every step as you go,” he told Sport360°. “I am enjoying it over here, it will be tough to go back as the weather certainly helps. The level back home is that touch higher, but I can definitely see myself coming back here in the future.”
Harlow-born Sharp has yet to feature in a competitive first-team match in the United Kingdom but has excelled at youth level and was involved in World Cup-winning hooker John Smit’s last game as a professional player when Saracens beat South African Barbarians last May.
“This is my first time [regularly] playing senior rugby. It all adds to the experience, and I am enjoying it,” Sharp added. “The physicality of every hit you put in and tackle you receive takes it out of you. It is something I am enjoying, as I want to go on to bigger and better things in my rugby career and this is a fantastic level of rugby.
“I am learning off the boys around me. There are a lot of boys with a lot of experience out here, and I am playing against the likes of Jeremy Manning [Harlequins’ player-coach, who previously played for Munster and Newcastle Falcons].”
This change in status left its mark on Sharp last week as he hobbled off the pitch with an ankle knock during the first half against Quins.
Having represented England at Under-16 and 17 level, the Under- 18 international believes he has a chance of facing Jebel Ali Dragons at Al Ghazal this Friday.
“I got cleaned out awkwardly from a ruck and rolled my ankle. It needs a bit of ice and a bit of maintenance now, but I hope to be back next week,” he said. “You never say never.”
Meanwhile, Sharp’s current half-back partner, and coach, Tirrell hopes to return on a permanent basis next season, following a productive short spell with the club.
Tirrell has produced a rapid improvement in results and performances since joining on a month’s loan from his role as a rugby development officer with Saracens.
His current period ends immediately after Friday’s match with the Dragons. But when asked if he would like to return next season, Tirrell replied: “Yes, definitely.
“It would be a good adventure, with a good bunch of boys.”
Tirrell arrived in the Middle East at the end of February after predecessor Steve Evans had to return to the UK.
AD Saracens chairman Dave Jackson believes his new recruit could boost the club in all areas if he was to sign full-time.
“I would be absolutely delighted if James was to continue coaching us next season,” he said. “It would strengthen our knowledge base and youth sector tremendously.
“His knowledge of the game, concentration and engagement with the players are fantastic.”
Injury forced Tirrell to cut short his professional playing career with Saracens in the UK and he currently shares a development role at his former club with his responsibilities as player-coach at London 1 North outfit Letchworth Garden City.
This background has seen him add a new determination to the Al Ghazal outfit.
“I have tried to come in here and instil belief,” Tirrell said. “We have changed our training to make it more intense. We have started asking questions of the boys, and they are responding well.”