Xodus Wasps chairman Craig Gibson believes new head coach Mike Pugsley is the man to take the club back into the UAE Premiership.
After a disastrous 2014/15 season, which saw Wasps relegated to the Conference, Gibson is hoping Pugsley’s appointment will give the club some of its buzz back.
Wasps lurched from farce to furore last season, stung by a Dh10,000 fine from the UAE Rugby Federation before the season even kicked off in September for failing to send a member of staff on a medical course.
They lost five straight games in the Premiership – finishing with a points difference of -137 – and will be replaced by Conference champions Al Ain Amblers this season.
They finished rock bottom of the post-Christmas Gulf Conference, below Dubai Exiles, Doha 2nds and Muscat.
To compound matters, a second run-in with the UAE RF saw their second team disqualified from the Conference for forfeiting a number of games. Gibson hopes the drama is behind them and that their rugby will dominate the headlines in 2015/16.
“We’re excited about Mike’s appointment and he’s certainly happy to come on board. He liked the feel of the club and is excited about the challenge of re-energising and rejuvenating us,” said Gibson.
Pugsley, 30, has a good rugby pedigree, having coached Conference side Sharjah Wanderers last season.
He is also director of rugby at the English College Dubai.
Gibson added: “He’s excited about the new challenge and we’re very excited too. We’re confident he’s one of the best qualified coaches in the UAE.
“He’s the man we think to get us back to where we belong – the UAE Premiership. We respect the other clubs but we see ourselves as a Premiership club and we want to be back there next season.
“There’s no-one at the club who wouldn’t say we’re not hoping to get back there this year.”
Gibson admitted the previous campaign was arguably the worst since the club was formed five years ago. However, he says optimism is swarming around Wasps.
“We were relegated to the Conference so we needed to reassess our aims and options,” he said.
“It was a difficult season last year. We struggled on the administration side and with injuries throughout the campaign, as well as the freak amount of players we missed (28) against Abu Dhabi Saracens in the October Premiership game because of injuries and an outbreak of conjunctivitis.
“We couldn’t get any momentum going. We were in a cycle of despair. Confidence and morale were affected and it became a constant issue, it was a struggle.
“Despite all that the atmosphere around the club is still strong. The ladies’ team did well and have just won a title at the Budapest 7s while we’ve retained lots of players and attracting new.”
Jacques Benade is targeting a return to UAE rugby’s top table for Dubai Exiles.
The former fly-half enjoyed a stellar playing career, representing the Emerging Springboks, playing alongside Joost van der Westhuizen for the Blue Bulls, featuring in Super 12 (now Super Rugby) with Natal Sharks while he also played in the Heineken Cup with Treviso.
Despite arriving in the sweltering UAE summer, the 45-year-old will not have much time to acclimatise.
The heat is on the club’s new director of rugby as he attempts to reverse last season’s fortunes.
Exiles finished fifth in the UAE Premiership, missing out on qualification for the Gulf Top Six for a second successive season.
Although they have claimed back-to-back Gulf Conference triumphs in each of the last two campaigns, Benade says with the elite is where Exiles belong.
“When you are not in that Gulf Top Six you’re down in the Conference and it’s a very negative thing for Exiles not to be seen as one of the top six clubs in the Gulf, that’s something we need to address,” said Benade.
“It’s one of the reasons the club appointed me. We need to perform and get that pride back. I’m sure everyone is keen to see me on the pitch and what I can do and how I can help the club move forward.
“Jan (Venter, previous coach) and the guys have done an unbelievable job over the last few years, moving the club away from perhaps where it shouldn’t have been.
“They’ve built a squad that hopefully I can come into, continue to build and move to a new level.”
After his playing career, Benade moved to Ireland for what he had envisioned being a seven month player coach at All-Ireland League side Malone RFC.
His stay in the Emerald Isle turned out to be a wee bit longer, 15 years in fact, during which time he also coached Ballymena and learnt from former British & Irish Lions legends Syd Miller and Willie John McBride.
Benade doesn’t expect his mission to get Exiles back to winning ways to take as long, but he is promising no quick fixes.
After all, rugby in the Emirates is evolving and has changed vastly in the last few years.
Things seemed to move at light speed even last season, with Abu Dhabi Saracens emerging as a new force and putting previous powerhouses Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Jebel Ali Dragons in the shade.
“I’d love to win a trophy, it’s always a target,” he said.
“If we can get a cup at the end of the season I’ll be delighted, but you’re not going to come in in your first year and win the league, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said.
“We have to improve on last year. The Gulf Top Six is my short term goal, which would show we’re better as a team.
“We want to be competitive, we want to go and win every game and that will be my target.”
The Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens is set to smash yet another record this year, with an unprecedented level of interest shown in the Invitation Tournament and the inaugural Netball Tournament.
According to organizers, the news will guarantee the highest number of teams in the history of the event at The Sevens Stadium on 3-5 December, 2015.
Dubai Rugby Sevens attracts the world’s best players vying for honours in the Men’s and Women’s Sevens World Series and in a feature unique to Dubai, the event simultaneously hosts one of the biggest Invitation Tournaments on the world circuit at the one location.
— Dubai Rugby Sevens (@Dubai7s) July 9, 2015
A total of 223 teams competed in the invitational last year, to break all previous records, but with just under five months until this year’s competition, 432 teams have registered interest so far.
The Invitation Tournament will be held across 16 categories, featuring participants of all ages and nationalities from under 19 girls to veterans and this year will also include a netball competition for the first time.
An additional rugby pitch has even been installed at the stadium to bring the total number of pitches to eight, allowing entries to be further increased.
Invitation Tournament manager Jill Conlon said: “The Invitation Tournament is a unique spectacle in its own right.
“The players really like this event because it has grown from a very small club tournament to the huge international event it is today, but has retained the friendly atmosphere of a smaller tournament.
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“The players also mix with the international players so it’s very exciting for the invitation players to be part of such an important international event.
“The addition of the netball tournament this year has been very well received and we have been overwhelmed with the level of interest from netball teams who are keen to be part of this exciting event.”
The three day annual event is now in its 46th year and iss one of the most popular and eagerly anticipated dates on the Dubai sporting calendar.
In excess of 100,000 visitors are expected to attend over the course of the three days.