Head coach Mike Pugsley is wiping the slate clean as he ushers in a new era at Xodus Wasps.
The Welshman previously coached Sharjah Wanderers for four years before taking the reins of the Dubai club in July after a truly disastrous 2014-15 season, one which saw them relegated from the UAE Premiership.
Despite their various woes, the 30-year-old is hoping to take Wasps straight back to the top tier of domestic rugby, and is buoyant ahead of the new UAE Conference campaign, which begins at home to another club high on ambition, Dubai Sharks, on September 25.
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“Promotion is the end game, absolutely,” said Pugsley.
“You have to aim high. The players understand that. They’re not going out to play to come third or fourth in the league. They want to win.
“That’s the reason why I’ve gone there too. It’s shared ambitions between all of us. There’ll be a bit of pressure coming down from the Premiership, there’ll be a bit of expectation but I think that’s good. The players will understand that.
“This year the main thing is to establish ourselves in the league, but if we’re in the top six we’ll push on with the mindset of having the intention to win it.”
Last season began badly for Wasps when they were stung by a Dh10,000 fine from the UAE Rugby Federation before a ball had even been kicked, penalized for failing to send a member of staff on a medical course.
After that, their decline was steep and rapid, losing five straight games in the Premiership and finishing rock bottom of the post-Christmas Gulf Conference, below Dubai Exiles, Doha 2nds and Muscat.
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A second run-in with the UAE RF saw their second team disqualified from the Conference for forfeiting a number of games.
Newport native Pugsley, however, isn’t concerned by what occurred last season. He’s only interested in moving forward.
“It’s a new era. We sat down as a coaching and management group at the first training and that’s the impression I got from them. They want to be moving forward,” he said.
“Last year, whatever has gone on has gone on. Let’s wipe the slate clean. We have a new coaching team, a new training venue, and we want to start afresh and kick on from there. It should be good.”
Pugsley, a teacher at Dubai English College, had planned to take a break from coaching after leaving Sharjah, but said he was tempted by the challenge facing him at Wasps.
“My intention was to have a year out as I’d been coaching for nine years over here and back home, so I just fancied a bit of a break,” he said.
Wasps train on Monday nights at GEMS Metropole School, Motor City, Dubai, from 19:30.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins head coach Mike McFarlane is excited by his side’s depth ahead of the new season after a mixed team travelled to Sri Lanka and beat national champions Kandy.
The mood at the Zayed Sport City club has been buoyant over the summer, and optimism ahead of the new domestic campaign will only heighten following the 32-17 win against the hosts on Friday.
McFarlane, who replaced New Zealander Jeremy Manning in June, was thrilled with the “outstanding” rugby his side played.
“We played some really good rugby and it was a great win,” said McFarlane, 29.
“It was a good standard of rugby and we travelled with a mixed team, including first, second and third team players as many are still on holiday, but we kept our structures that we’ve put in place over the last seven or eight weeks in training, which was massively encouraging.
“It gave me lots of confidence watching from the sidelines, it shows that if we have injuries and absences this season we have fantastic depth. The team will only get stronger with boys coming back in.”
McFarlane said his team’s performance bodes well ahead of the new domestic season, which Quins kick-off with a mouthwatering Abu Dhabi derby against Saracens on September 25, the opening day of the UAE Premiership season.
“The commitment in training has been fantastic and the boys’ fitness levels are outstanding,” he added.
The UAE suffered a miserable start to the 2015 Asia Sevens Series after they were whitewashed during a pair of painful losses Saturday.
Roelof Kotze’s men travelled to China with hopes of breaking into the continent’s top-eight ranked nations from 11th.
But these dreams quickly fell apart in Pool A, opening with a 20-0 defeat to the Philippines and finishing up with a 24-0 reversal to Hong Kong.
The South African performance manager challenged his side to rebound and win all their matches on Sunday, starting with their Bowl semi-final against Chinese Taipei.
He said: “They were two tough defeats to take. The Philippines started much better than us in the opener and we couldn’t get going against Hong Kong.
“The players need to regroup quickly, as if we win our games it could help us towards ending the year ninth in Asia. That would still be a massive achievement and show clear year-on-year progress.
“We can’t lose more matches in China. I reckon we will end up facing Thailand in the Bowl final and I am confident we can beat them.
“We are probably closer to 12th in the rankings as we speak, but we can certainly turn this around. I believe we have a good shot at it, Philippines are beatable in future and the likes of Kazakhstan can be targeted.”
The UAE have re-introduced expatriates to the fold for the three legs of the Sevens Series after they failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.
This decisions has seen the likes of Abu Dhabi Harlequins winger Chris Marshall receive their first international call-ups. But the fresh faces received a tough introduction this weekend, Kotze hoping the “steep learning curve” will eventually bring out the best in them.
He said: “For some of the new boys, I think they had a shock at the speed and pace of international sevens. You cannot replicate that in training or domestic matches.
“It is a steep learning curve for them. The key thing is for us to identify a few players who will help take the team forward.”
The UAE finished rock bottom in each event during the 2014 edition. This year’s competition next heads to Thailand on September 26-27, before ending in Sri Lanka from October 10-11.