Ben Bolger’s forced retirement from rugby has caused ructions across the UAE this week but his national team coach claims he’ll be missed for being a good man as much as his rugby prowess.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins flanker Bolger officially announced his shock retirement to teammates at training last Monday.
Only 28, it came as a surprise, but having suffered close to 20 concussions throughout his 23 years playing rugby, the former London Broncos player said he’d taken the decision with his health and family in mind.
And for the impact the loss of such a player will have on Quins and the national team, UAE coach Apollo Perelini says Bolger’s infectious and inspiring personality will be as equal a loss.
“All good rugby captains have to not just be good players, but good men, off and on the field, who command a lot of respect,” said Perelini.
“All the captains who have served under me have been good leaders, Niall Statham and then Ben, but they’ve been good men. They don’t do a lot of talking but they’re all action. And those two are all action men.
“They lead from the front. They’re not barking orders from the back, they’re at the front and showing the way. They don’t say much. They just say ‘follow me’ and Ben’s one of those guys.”
Having witnessed Bolger suffering a concussion while under his watch at the Asia Rugby Championship previously, Perelini admitted he had concerns about the player’s well-being.
“I had the discussion with Ben last year. He got concussed in the first minute of our first game and I was really concerned for him,” added Perelini.
“I always say to my players you’ve got two of most things but you’ve only got one head. I’m never going to put any player on the field that I feel will struggle, especially if he’s had concussion issues in the past.
“I was always concerned for Ben when I look at his history of concussions. It’s sad to think Ben won’t be on the field again but I think it’s the best decision for him. I wouldn’t want him to continue playing and then have problems later on in life.”
Looking ahead to next year’s ARC, where Perelini and the UAE will try to establish themselves in Division I after a rough landing in Asia Rugby’s second tier this year, the former dual code star admits Bolger’s loss will be felt, but he’s excited about a new wave of talent becoming available.
The likes of Quins prop Craig Nutt and Jebel Ali Dragons duo, powerhouse South African hooker Gio Fourie and explosive Fijian centre Sakiusa Naisau, all qualify for the UAE this season. And Perelini believes his squad will be infinitely enhanced.
“There’s a few players becoming available this year and I’ve been out to watch a few games and seen a few videos,” said the New Zealander.
“There’s a few boys who have already put their hand up. It’s always difficult to select a squad and it will be no different next year. There’s some really good players becoming available and they’re all putting their hand up.
“This past year we failed to adapt to the conditions and the competition (the UAE lost all three games v hosts Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines).
“I put that blame down to me. When the team is not successful I’m not going to make excuses and say it was the players’ fault, it’s my fault. They were my responsibility.”
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