Niall Lear may be new to UAE rugby but knows success and Abu Dhabi Harlequins are old hat

Matt Jones - Editor 10:38 03/10/2019
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Niall Lear was named Quins' new director of rugby in July. (Pic courtesy of Falkirk Herald)

Niall Lear is keenly aware that success and tradition go hand in hand at Abu Dhabi Harlequins, and the new head coach claims this year will be “no different”.

The Scotsman had a whirlwind introduction to life at his new club when he took his first training session hours after stepping off the plane into the scorching summer heat of the UAE at the end of July.

The former Connacht A, Scottish Schools and Scotland Under-18 international has now had two months to acclimatise – or at least try – and lay the foundations for the future at Quins and prepare for the new West Asia Premiership season.

The 2019/20 campaign begins at begins at Jebel Ali Dragons this weekend as the WAP kicks off on Friday with a mouthwatering clash between two sides who will be considered among the title favourites.

Dragons were crowned champions in thrilling fashion two years ago – at Quins’ expense – but the capital city side have been the main men in recent years, helped largely by the culture spread and control exerted by Lear’s predecessor Mike McFarlane.

He left midway through last season, with Lear his permanent replacement after the reins were handed to players Craig Nutt and Luke Stevenson as well as assistant coach Rory Greene on a temporary basis.

Harlequins finished a difficult 2018/19 season on a high by lifting the UAE Premiership in March.

Harlequins finished a difficult 2018/19 season on a high by lifting the UAE Premiership in March.

He may have had to quickly get used to life in the desert, but Lear is not expecting a tranquil bedding-in period.

“For me it’s been a whirlwind start to the year getting used to Abu Dhabi and more importantly Quins,” said Lear, who took his first coaching session at Zayed Sports City just 12 hours after landing in the UAE two months ago.

“It’s a great club with good people about. I think myself and those involved at the club have very similar views and aims. We want the club to be challenging for honours this year. It’s a club that traditionally has done very well and this year we hope to be no different.

“Obviously this is a unique environment which can be more transient than other places but it’s something that all clubs have to deal with.”

Ahead of the new season Quins have lost flying Fijians Emosi Ratuvecanaua and Kini Natuna. Quins have enjoyed much success in the last decade but have suffered through losses of key players in recent summers, so Lear is delighted the club has retained a core element of its 2018/19 squad – including the likes of pivotal half-back pairing Stevenson and Andrew Semple.

Fly-half Stevenson was joined in the UAE sevens squad by scrum-half Semple for the first time during the recent Asia Rugby Sevens Series and Lear is counting on their experience to assist him and Quins as the season progresses.

“In terms of additions and departures, we have lost Emosi and Kini who are two players who have given a great deal to the club,” he added.

“They go with everyone’s best wishes and I know the boys are looking forward to facing them throughout the year.

“We have bags of experience and we are lucky we have a squad that have played together for a numbers of years. They have bought into everything that I have brought with me and hopefully there will be a few subtle changes to the Quins way out on the pitch.”

Quins always head into any campaign among the favourites, but Lear is expecting a more wide open fight for the title than the relative procession enjoyed by Bahrain last season – Quins were their only challengers, but even they finished 13 points adrift at the top of the table.

“I know the league will be incredibly competitive. From what I have seen, teams are improving every season and after last year everyone is hot on the heels of Bahrain,” said Lear, whose playing achievements included representing Connacht A from 2008-09, Scottish Schools, Scotland U18s and being part of the Scotland Sevens training squad.

“I’m confident that if we get things right then we will definitely be there or there abouts come the business end of the season. It’s going to be tough but hopefully competition brings the best out of us.”

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