Despite securing the easiest passage possible through to the final of the UAE Premiership Cup next month, Dubai Exiles are far from happy.
The UAE Rugby Federation sanctioned more games for clubs following discussions last summer in a bid to provide more competition and regular rugby. But Exiles are annoyed at having received byes to the final after Abu Dhabi Saracens initially forfeited their quarter-final fixture in December, while Friday’s scheduled semi-final was forfeited this week by Jebel Ali Dragons.
“It’s out there and clubs have said yes to playing in it. If the UAE RF have said we’re playing, we should, so I’m disappointed with Dragons,” said Exiles chairman Mike Wolff.
“Their squad is twice the size of ours. If it’s for strong medical reasons, we appreciate that, but it’s not the argument that’s being made. It just seems it wasn’t in their plans and they’re choosing to set their focus elsewhere.
“Sarries forfeited against us, then Dragons forfeited, so we’re through to the final.”
Despite the criticism, Dragons hit back by claiming they knew little about the competition, making its debut on the UAE rugby calendar this season, and which they say wasn’t included on the original set of fixtures issued to clubs – even though it was on the official list circulated by the UAE RF to media in late August.
“We’re not very happy with the inclusion of this cup without much explanation of why it’s included when we have the West Asia Premiership to play for, as well as the West Asia Cup and finally the UAE Premiership, which means there are three quality competitions,” said Dragons head coach Henry Paul.
“We think that is what was on offer at the start of the season and we’ll be doing our best to win these three.”
Dragons skipper Ross Samson added: “Boys make plans from the original set of fixtures we were given at the start of the year as we all have lives outside of rugby and this cup wasn’t in our plans until it’s recent announcement.
“I hate the idea of forfeiting anything as I’m extremely competitive but we need to know about these competitions earlier. We wish the teams the best of luck in the upcoming games.”
Dragons also said they offered Exiles the chance to combine the cup game with their West Asia Premiership fixture last weekend – Exiles won 35-15 to open up the title race – but that their opponents declined.
“We offered Exiles a double header last week and they turned it down so we gave them a bye,” added Samson.
“It’s basically a cup that we had no idea existed, we were given a bye (in December), asked Exiles if they wanted to do a double header to save playing twice, they didn’t want to so we gave them a bye to the final,” added Dragons chairman Stuart Quinn.
“It’s a completely unnecessary cup made up to fill time. Now there’s the West Asia Premiership, West Asia Cup, the UAE Premiership and this competition. There’s four cups for seven teams. That’s more cups that the Premiership and the Super 15 combined, it’s nonsense.”
But Wolff refuted suggestions a sixth trophy – there is also the Dubai Sevens title as well as the lesser established Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League – devalues the competition.
“The cup is designed to give a small Premiership of six teams some more games,” he said.
“It’s always good when top teams are playing each other regardless of the competition or format. It’s not devaluing it, it’s a good idea from the UAE RF when we say we don’t have enough games to play.
“On a broader note I think there’s issues with teams forfeiting, we’ve had five matches postponed across our first and second teams. You don’t get exposure if you’re not playing games, and it’s a risk with sponsors we don’t want to take.”
UAE Rugby player profile:
Height: 6’ / 182cm
Weight: 14st / 88.9kg
Birthplace: Cork, Ireland
Years in UAE: Five months
Honours: Munster Rugby U18s and sevens. Cayman Islands international 15s and 7s
Favourite childhood memory of rugby: I have been fortunate enough to have played in teams that won the Munster Junior Cup and Munster Senior Cup, however, on both occasions my dad presented the trophies and medals to the team as he was involved in the Munster branch at the time
Favourite player growing up: Simon Geoghegan, was the most exciting Irish back I can remember growing up. Pretty sure he was born in England, but I guess I’m willing to overlook that fact
Rugby team you support: Ireland/Munster
Best international at the moment and why: Hard to look past Beauden Barrett at the minute, probably the best 10 in the world right now, and the perfect replacement for Dan Carter
Rule you would change and why: I think that the new rules which have been introduced this season are very good for the game and they will favor attacking rugby and therefore make it more enjoyable to watch. I would, however, like to see the introduction of more free-kicks instead of penalties for certain infringements
Best game you ever saw: Munster winning Heineken Cup finals in Cardiff is up there with the most enjoyable games I’ve seen
Toughest opponent in UAE (team or player): I haven’t been here long, but Jebel Ali Dragons are a great team, and also seem like a decent bunch of lads
Funniest/most embarrassing moment in your career: I once injured myself by running into a scrum machine at training
Greatest achievement in any sport: Captaining Cayman Islands National 7s team in the North American Caribbean Rugby Championship
If you could be a professional in any other sport what it would be and why? Golf. Less chance of injuries and longer careers
Favourite meal: If I could just eat chocolate and natural confectionery jellies all day that would keep me pretty happy
Favourite place in the UAE: Just moved into the Marina, really like that area
There was an extremely competitive yet friendly atmosphere at the HSBC Rugby Festival Dubai 2018.
Now in its ninth year, the tournament, held over the weekend of January 26-27, celebrates the excitement, diversity and enjoyment that rugby offers by bringing together over 270 teams from 20 clubs throughout the GCC region.
That’s around 3,000 of the finest young players performing across one spectacular weekend.
As in previous years, the festival was jointly organised on behalf of HSBC by Dubai Hurricanes and Dubai Exiles, with in excess of 600 games being played across the two days.
Aside from getting the opportunity to play at a the fantastic Sevens Stadium, a number of the teams got the chance to strut their stuff into front of former England and British & Irish Lions international Lewis Moody.
A member of England’s 2003 World Cup winning side, he was clearly impressed by the exceptional standard of rugby and the camaraderie among the young players.
“They never gave up, never backed down and fought to the end,” he said. Moody was just one among approximately 8,000 spectators who were enthralled by roughly 10,000 minutes of high-quality rugby.
Peter Clapp, joint event director from Canes, said: “Over the two-day festival there were 110 well-earned trophies presented, underlining the organising body’s commitment to doing everything possible to ensure all of the young players left with the festival etched in their minds forever, ready to return next year for another enjoyable weekend of rugby.
“Each and every one of the youngsters played hard and played fair. Easy to start, tricky to stop and impossible to forget.”
Role of honour
U6: Winners Tigers, runners-up Dubai Hurricanes
U7: Winners Dubai Exiles, runners-up Dubai Hurricanes
U8: Winners Tigers, runners-up Dubai Hurricanes
U9: Winners Dubai Exiles, runners-up Tigers
U10: Winners Dubai Hurricanes, runners-up Dubai Exiles
U11: Winners Abu Dhabi Harlequins, runners-up Arabian Knights
U12: Winners Tigers, runners-up Dubai Hurricanes
U13: Winners Dubai Hurricanes, runners-up Dubai Exiles
U14: Winners Dubai Exiles, runners-up Dubai Hurricanes
U16: Winners Abu Dhabi Harlequins, runners-up Dubai Exiles
U19: Winners Dubai Hurricanes, runners-up Dubai Hurricanes
U12 girls: Winners Arabian Knights, runners-up Dubai Exiles
U15 girls: Winners Arabian Knights, runners-up Dubai Exiles
U19 girls: Winners Dubai Exiles, runners-up Al Ain