Isaac Porter left Sharjah Wanderers with a heavy heart nearly 12 months ago, but the loveable Irishman feels his decision has been vindicated following a call-up to the UAE squad for the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC) later this month.
All-action loose forward Porter joined West Asia and UAE Premiership outfit Dubai Eagles at the end of last season – like Wanderers they have a prevalent Irish core.
And even though it’s been a season of struggle for the second-year club, they can be buoyed by the fact Porter is one of three players selected in national team coach Apollo Perelini’s 27-man training squad for the ARC.
Porter joins Sean Carey and Mohamed Hassan in the squad, which will be trimmed before flying out to Thailand on May 12, where they will take on Asia minnows Guam in Bangkok three days later in a Division II play-off for the chance to meet Thailand or Kazakhstan in the final on May 18 – the winners of that game will be promoted to Division I.
Porter is one of a number of new faces to qualify for UAE residency this year, and he is “honoured” to be part of a squad returning to continental action after a year away.
“I’m absolutely delighted to be named in the squad,” said Porter, who had been an instrumental figure for Sharjah during his formative years in the Emirates – he was key to their UAE Conference-winning season in 2015/16.
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Congrats to the 3 Eagles for making the UAE national side this year. They head to the Asia Championships in Thailand this month. Oli Johnson, Isaac Porter and Sean Carey. . . #rugby #uaerugby #asiarugby #gulfrugby #sevensrugby #dubaisportscity #rugbyunion #eaglesrugby #dsceagles #kickers
“It’s an absolute honour and privilege to get this opportunity. The talent of rugby players around the UAE is getting stronger each year, so I’m very humbled to get his opportunity.”
Porter’s departure was the catalyst for a sorry 2018 summer for Sharjah. The club – one of the Emirates’ oldest, establishing roots in the late 1970s – announced via their Twitter and Instagram accounts last September that they had taken the “tough call” to withdraw from the 2018/19 Conference with a little over a week to go until the start of the season.
The club – whose ladies team is nevertheless thriving – insisted it would remain in-tact and compete in various sevens and 10s tournaments throughout the season, and attempt to regroup and return its senior men’s team to action for 2019/20, a decision that remains to be made.
Although the UAE is a transient place, with players coming and going with regularity due to changeable work commitments, departing Sharjah was no easy choice for Porter.
He said: “I decided to join the Eagles last year, which was a very tough decision to transfer from Sharjah, to play Premiership rugby, and now to be named in the UAE squad is unbelievable.”
And he is excited about his and the UAE’s prospects, adding: “It’s great to be back in the championship, it will be an exciting challenge, and we have a very talented squad travelling this year.”
Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ cohort of Emosi Ratuvecanaua, Kini Natuna, Craig Nutt, Murray Reason, Esekaia Dranibota and Sean Stevens are all new additions to Perelini’s squad this year too, as well as Jebel Ali Dragons’ Matthew Richards and Dubai Exiles’ Thinus Steyn, Ed Armitage, Lucas Waddington, Gio Fourie and Stephen Ferguson.
Quins prop Chris Jones-Griffiths, meanwhile, the UAE’s most capped player of all time, returns to the international fold after coming out of retirement for his club this season.
Exiles director of rugby Jacques Benade joins Perelini’s coaching staff for the Thailand trip – having acted as assistant alongside former Quins chief Mike McFarlane a year ago as the UAE played Gibraltar in a friendly in Dubai.
Outgoing Bahrain supremo Louie Tonkin also joins Benade on the coaching staff before he heads back to the UK in June to take up a job with Exeter Chiefs’ academy.
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