Bahrain picked up their first prize in almost a decade last year to establish themselves as the new force in Gulf rugby. The problem with gaining prominence is that it then puts a target upon your back.
That target may take some time to be acquired given Bahrain’s remote location in the Middle East – a plane journey required for UAE opponents to get there, while the island is completely surrounded on all sides by water.
And yet scrutiny on Bahrain will be far more intense this season after they beat all their UAE rivals to lift the coveted West Asia Premiership last term – a first piece of silverware in eight years.
Revolutionary coach Louie Tonkin has gone after turning them from also-rans into giants. But he has left behind a legacy that friends and long-time Bahrain players Adam Wallace and Lindsay Gibson hope to prolong.
Influential centre and captain Wallace moves into Tonkin’s head coach role, while barrelling Scottish hooker Gibson assumes the forwards’ coaching role.
“Obviously we understand the attitude towards us has changed and we are no longer the underdogs and everyone will want to knock us off top spot,” said Gibson, ahead of the Premiership’s return this Friday.
“However our goals remain the same, we still want to push for that top spot and would love to have another home final and bring home the silverware again.”
Bahrain are used to travel, given they play exclusively against UAE sides, and they will touch down in Dubai for Friday’s season opener facing a new opponent in promoted second-tier champions Dubai Tigers. And Gibson is expecting the team coached by New Zealand-born ex-Italy international Aaron Persico to fully contribute to a hotly contested 2019/20 campaign.
“We are a little bit out of the loop over here in Bahrain so I’m not too sure who has recruited and what players have moved on from the clubs in the UAE,” said Gibson.
“Based on last year’s league we know all teams will be looking to push on and Dubai Exiles will be out to win the league after a narrow loss in the final.
“With Tigers accepting promotion we know they must be confident of competing and the Dubai Knights Eagles joining will also have strengthened the first team – we could be looking at a very competitive league this season.”
Bahrain’s own recruitment drive has been hit by the loss of Tonkin, as well as several of last year’s star-studded squad departing for pastures new. But the champions have also been discovering new opportunities further east.
Gibson added: “Unfortunately we have lost a couple of big characters from the squad in Luke Radley who has left for work in the UK and Rob Bennett who is off to Bali then Australia for a year’s traveling.
“Unfortunately some of last season’s recruits turned down job offers in Bahrain to pursue other opportunities around the globe.
“With these big departures this season we have looked at a different recruitment avenue and have used some of our contacts in the southern hemisphere to help find lads who are keen to pursue a different career and rugby opportunities.
“As expected they will add something different to what we currently have here in Bahrain.
“We have also promoted a group of players from our second team in order to fill some gaps in the squad and they will get plenty of game-time throughout the year having impressed in pre-season.
“Louie is obviously a massive departure and has impacted the squad with Adam Wallace stepping away from playing to fulfil the head coaches role.”
Know more about Sport360 Application