Sean Carey believes Dubai Eagles can be the community club “Dubai really needs” after they were officially incorporated into the UAE rugby family last week.
There have been recent murmurings of a new club being established and this was confirmed when the UAE Rugby Federation sent out an email six days ago announcing the new calendar for the 2017/18 season, which will kick off on September 22.
Attention was immediately drawn to the top-tier UAE Premiership and West Asia Premiership – which will welcome Eagles as a new entry after their creation was ratified by the governing body.
Details such as players and coaches are yet to be made clear but the team will be based at Dubai Sports City (DSC) and UAE international Carey, 29, is the club’s director of rugby.
For all the clubs located in Dubai, there are none in the UAE’s top tier that actually play in the city, with Jebel Ali Dragons located on the outskirts by the port and Hurricanes and Exiles both playing at The Sevens.
Dubai Sharks and Arabian Knights have called DSC home in recent seasons, although their future is now far from certain.
But former Ireland youth international Carey is excited about the future with Eagles.
“It’s a new dimension to rugby, there’ll be a lot of excitement at DSC and it’s positive for UAE rugby,” said Carey, who manages the sports park at DSC.
“There’s lots of teams in Dubai but many play outside the city so it’ll be nice to have a team playing rugby in Dubai.
“We’re trying to build a community club that Dubai really needs. Like Bahrain and Doha, build it from within the community. Something that sports city residents or anyone in the region can come to and join.
“We don’t want to just be a club that comes and plays and leaves the next season. We want to start something and start it right and take it forward over the next few years.
“We’ve got all the facilities here at Sports City so it makes sense to do it. They have the Spanish Soccer School and the ICC Academy here so it’s the next step. It’s been coming and it’s about time to do something with rugby.
“We’re still in the teething process and will know more in the next two weeks. It’s great to be in the UAE and West Asia Premiership and have the backing of UAE Rugby Federation, it’s now about building the club up.”
Carey featured alongside future internationals Keith Earls and Cian Healy when he appeared for Ireland in Dubai in 2006 when the Under 19 Rugby World Championship was staged here.
The former Lansdowne prospect has been in the Emirates for the last four years, playing first for Hurricanes before moving to Exiles.
He insists the level of rugby has increased every year he has been here so he is not naïve enough to think that Eagles are going to swoop in and challenge for silverware in their first season.
But he is adamant they will compete and not be whipping boys.
“We’re not stupid in thinking we’re going to win the league in the first season,” he said.
“We’re realistic on what we’re targeting. We’re trying to get something built and off the ground. If we can go out and compete in the first season we’ll be happy. We’re not expecting to light up the world but we want to get it right from the start and grow it over the years.
“It’s hard to know how competitive we’ll be until you get training started but it’s not our agenda to go for any trophies.”
Having passed the three-year residency period last season, winger Carey was part of Apollo Perelini’s UAE squad that played at the Asia Rugby Championship in Malaysia in May.
After being promoted to Division I a year ago, hopes were high that the UAE could compete for the title this year and perhaps even begin an unlikely journey to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
But despite battling bravely with an improved squad, the UAE lost all three games to the hosts, as well as Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
And with the likes of Al Ain Amblers dropping back down to the UAE Conference at the start of last season after being stripped of players, and Doha not featuring next term after diplomatic ties were cut with the UAE, Carey believes an extra team in the top tier will benefit the national team and region’s top club sides.
“The standard of rugby here is improving all the time. I was with Canes for my first two seasons and you can see where it’s going, towards professionalism,” said Carey.
“I’ve come from high quality background too and it’s been catching up each year the last four years. It’s pretty close to the semi-professional level back home. I was involved too with UAE in May and I know the UAE needs the clubs to improve for them to get better.”
Carey says more information on the Eagles will be released in the coming weeks, including the recruitment of players and naming of coaching staff, but he insists the club is in talks with people that will instill quality.
“I have no doubt we’ll have enough players,” he added.
“It’s just getting the good quality coaches and people in positions to make those players perform right. We’ll have the players no doubt, because of the location. We want to get it done properly.
“We’re in talks with a few people and maybe in the next week we’ll be able to release something properly on that. We’ve got a few guys coming in. Good quality high coaches that we’re looking to bring in. We can’t really say yet. We’re waiting to get everything together.
“Where we’re at now is building a team in time for the season so we’re competitive. We’ll have some players from other teams probably but we need to give them a chance to talk to their clubs.
“We have the facilities, like the gym. We’ll have a proper programme. It’s pushing towards professionalism and a proper standard of rugby in the region.”
It might seem a little strange that a brand new club has gone straight into rugby at the highest possible level.
But Doha’s situation and Amblers’ withdrawal after just one game of the 2016/17 season just adds to pre-existing fears that there are not enough competitive games on domestic rugby’s elite stage.
Carey can sympathise with this and adds that the Eagles have the UAE RF’s full backing
“They have seen how serious we are about it. They agreed with it,” he said.
“We got lucky with Doha not being in it this year so they wanted more games for the Premiership teams. There’s a bit of luck to get in there but they’ve seen the potential in us and where we can go and it will benefit rugby in the region.
“I work for DSC and I’ve seen the potential that it can be done here. It was a pity to leave Exiles but I’m hoping it will be worth it in the long run.
“We’re just trying to get things off the ground at the moment. We’re trying to get a team together, something that’s competitive for next season.
“It’s been in the pipeline for quite a while. There’s been a few plans over the years but this year is the first year we got everything in order. We decided to go full on for it.
“I can’t release information like sponsors and financial backing yet. All I can speak about is what our ambitions are. We own the facility and we’ll know more in the next few weeks.”
There will be a new team name on the UAE rugby scene next season after Dubai Eagles were added to the fixture list for the 2017/18 campaign.
The team, which will be based at Dubai Sports City, will go straight into the top-tier UAE Premiership and premier cross-border competition in the Gulf, the West Asia Premiership.
The Eagles will join reigning champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins in both competitions, as well as Dubai Exiles, Abu Dhabi Saracens, Dubai Hurricanes and Jebel Ali Dragons in the UAE Premiership.
Eagles will join the same five UAE sides in the West Asia Premiership, along with Bahrain. Doha will not be allowed to compete in the cross-border competition after diplomatic ties with the UAE and several other Gulf nations were severed last month.
The 2017/18 season kicks off on September 22 across the UAE with the West Asia Premiership – set to be run for the second straight season in conjunction with the UAE Premiership – getting underway on that day, with actual fixtures yet to be decided.
The second and third divisions of UAE rugby, the UAE Conference and Community League, also begin that day, as does the Gulf Conference, which features the UAE Shaheen side along with a Bahrain Select team, Kuwait and Muscat.
The UAE Premiership will feature 14 rounds before the play-offs begin on March 23, 2018, with the finals taking place a week later on March 30.
The Conference will feature 10 teams instead of 11 next season, with Saracens 2nds dropping down into the Community League. As is usual the division will operate on a single round-robin format until December 15, after which it will split into the Top5 and Bottom5 competitions from January 12, with teams playing home and away until March 30.
Reigning champions Quins 2nds will be joined by Exiles 2nds, Dragons 2nds and Hurricanes 2nds, as well as by Tigers, Sharks, Sharjah Wanderers, Dubai Wasps, Arabian Knights and Amblers.
With the addition of Sarries 2nds, the Community League will home 11 teams, including Dragons 3rds. They and Sarries are joined by Shaheen, RAK Rugby, Beaver Nomads, Amblers 2nds, Wasps 2nds, Sharks 2nds and 3rds, Knights 2nds and Dragons 3rds.
After a successful debut last season, the finals of the UAE Premiership, Conference and Community League are once again set to be held on the same day, April 13.
Last season’s inaugural UAE Rugby Grand Finals Day was held at Dubai Sports City on April 7 where Quins completed the quintuple as they beat Dragons 30-20 in the UAE Premiership final.
Quins 2nds also took home silverware as they beat Al Ain Amblers in a thrilling Conference Top 6 final. Heartbeat Tigers beat Dubai Sharks in the Bottom 5 final while Dragons beat Quins in the Community League final.
The Dubai Rugby Sevens, meanwhile, takes place from November 30 to December 2 at the Sevens Stadium.
Dubai Exiles have signaled their intent ahead of the new season by snapping up powerhouse Number 8 Jaen Botes from Abu Dhabi Saracens.
The gargantuan South African back-row forward has returned to the club where he spent his childhood, having played mini and youth rugby with Exiles before heading to the UK for university.
Since returning to the UAE in 2014, Botes, 27, has played the last three seasons with Sarries, winning the 2015 West Asia Championship, although he was ineligible for the final in Doha.
He has since gone on to make his UAE debut and become an integral part of national team set-up.
Exiles are in need of an injection of fresh blood after following up their 2015/16 West Asia and UAE Premiership double-winning campaign with a woeful 2016/17. And chairman Mike Wolff is delighted with the acquisition of the fiery and physical Botes.
“I am delighted that Jaen is returning to the Exiles,” Wolff said of Botes, who is relocating to Dubai for work.
“He actually played with us as a mini and youth player many years ago, and went on to achieve great things with his rugby outside the UAE and of course more recently with Abu Dhabi Saracens and the UAE national team.
“We are thrilled to have him joining our men’s squad for next season. He is a formidable leader on the pitch and he will bring passion, dedication and no little physicality to the team.”
Exiles have been busy in the early part of the summer, with former Munster back and one-time Ireland international Denis Hurley brought in as defence coach.
After ceding superiority to Abu Dhabi Harlequins last season, Exiles will be keen to return to challenging for honours in 2017/18.
And Wolff has confidence Botes’ addition will see them return to prominence.
“We continue to build on the solid platform established by Jacques (Benade, director of rugby) and the men’s section after winning the double two seasons ago,” added Wolff.
“Whilst last season didn’t go as well as we wished after Jacques’ barnstorming first year in charge, we remain on a very positive trajectory.
“As well as bringing former Munster and Ireland player Denis Hurley in, we also have some more strong additions to the squad to be announced shortly. In a really competitive UAE Premiership and Conference set-up we are excited and confident about what next season might bring.”
Fellow South African Benade is looking forward to Botes adding more steel to Exiles’ pack.