Abu Dhabi Harlequins showed the spirit of champions in last week’s last-gasp win against Dubai Exiles and Chris Jones-Griffiths believes they can use that to help them retain their UAE Premiership crown.
Having been second best for large periods last week, Barry Dwyer finished off a move that started in the shadow of their own posts as Quins snatched a 22-18 triumph.
Jones-Griffiths believes wins in their next three games before the Premiership takes a mid-season break will put them in position to retain their title.
“I’m a Manchester United fan and to win like we did last week reminded me of how they would grind out results even when they didn’t play well. We showed the spirit of champions,” said the UAE international prop.
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“We want to go into the break in a healthy position but Canes are never easy. We have three tough games and if we can come through that it will stand us in good stead.”
Despite four straight wins, Quins have health concerns, Max Trimble and Chris Marshall injured last week, while Argentine prop Agustin Arias went down in the warm-up.
“There’s a few lads out, but we have tremendous strength in depth this season, in that sense it’s probably one of the best seasons I’ve been involved with Quins,” said Jones-Griffiths.
“With the nature of last week’s win there’s naturally a spring in our step this week.”
Injuries are also a glaring concern for Canes, who have their three first choice fly-halves – Andy Powell, Alan Foster and former Quins man Paul Beard – injured.
John Buxman, Greg Thompson, Craig Chapman and Gary Challis all return to bolster a pack, however, that went toe to toe with Sarries in last week’s 35-16 defeat.
“We need to stick to our strengths. We have a terrific back row and the front five has been brilliant,” said head coach James Ham. “We will be up against it but we are certainly going to go for it.”
The Roelof Kotze era may be over but he believes he heads back to South Africa with the UAE experiencing a more positive attitude towards rugby and the national team heading in the right direction.
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Kotze insists it is imperative the nation now pushes forward and does not take a backward step following his 22 months as the UAE’s performance manager.
With the national 15s team coming within a point of winning Division II of the Asia Rugby Championship in May, the sevens squad claiming a coveted place in the top eight Asian nations earlier this month and progress being made with the development of Emiratis, Kotze is satisfied with his accomplishments.
He says his successor, the UAE Rugby Federation and the players involved in the national team set-up, however, should not rest on their laurels.
“Just because I’m leaving, it doesn’t mean the UAE have to go backwards. It’s very important that doesn’t happen,” said Kotze, who departed last week to take up his new role as amateur rugby manager for the Currie Cup Premier Division Pumas, based in Nelspruit.
“We don’t have to go backwards, we can go forwards and keep getting better. That’s what I said when we came back from Malaysia. I think the ship is turning and players are keen to get back on board and be involved with UAE rugby again.
“We proved that again with the sevens. They came out in force to play and really committed.
“When I look back I would probably say that ‘satisfied’ is the right word. We set goals for ourselves and achieved most of them. You have to be thankful and happy.”
In Kuala Lumpur in May, only the width of a post prevented the UAE from beating Malaysia, Hassan Al Noobi’s effort striking an upright as the tournament hosts claimed a narrow 20-19 win. The UAE had beaten Thailand 53-22 and Chinese Taipei 16-12 to restore pride following their relegation the previous season.
In sevens, the team picked themselves up off the canvas having finished dead last of 12 teams in 2014 by rising up to finish seventh overall in the Asia Sevens Series and claim a spot as one of the core eight nations for 2016.
“In 15s we said we wanted to be seriously competitive in the Asia Rugby Championship, which we were,” said Kotze. “We wanted to win Division II which we didn’t achieve, but we got within one point of it.
“In sevens we said we wanted to be in the top eight of Aisa and we did that.”
He admitted the Pumas job perhaps came a year earlier than he would have liked, but said he leaves the UAE in the very capable hands of former Samoan dual code international Apollo Perelini.
“The timing is not exactly the best,” he said. “Next year would have been the optimum time, so that is the sad part of leaving now, but I had to make a decision.
“What we’ve done with Apollo taking charge of the 15s, that shouldn’t disrupt them because he and I have the same outlook on the game and how we want it to be played. I think that’s why we worked well together.
“There will be a few tweaks but in principle the system will stay the same. It will go from strength to strength I’m sure.
“Pretty much the same applies with the sevens. They won’t be starting from scratch again, so that will be good.”
Kotze also sees a bright future for rugby among locals, with firm structures in place for the Shaheen programme.
“We’ve formalised and entered them into a league, we’ve now got a vehicle where we can develop them,” added Kotze. “The numbers are growing every day. Maybe in a year or two we’ll have two Shaheen teams because there will be enough players.”
Abu Dhabi Harlequins 2nds and Dubai Hurricanes 2nds maintained their perfect records to remain joint top of the UAE Conference after four games on Friday night.
Both teams enjoyed comprehensive victories to remain five points clear of Sharjah Wanderers in third-place – the only other team in the division who are also yet to taste defeat this season.
Quins beat Dubai Exiles 2nds 29-6 at Zayed Sports City as Canes triumphed across Abu Dhabi at Al Ghazal, claiming a thrilling 39-19 win against the winless Abu Dhabi Saracens 2nds.
Sharjah, who have played a game less than the leading two, were rampant in their 49-3 routing of Arabian Knights, who are also winless after their three games.
In the night’s other two games, Jebel Ali Dragons 2nds got their first win of the season in fine style as they hammered Al Ain Amblers 2nds 57-10 at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence.
Dubai Wasps continued their good progress under new head coach Mike Pugsley, the Welshman steering his side to a tense 23-17 win against Heartbeat Tigers to lift them into fifth place.
In the Community League, meanwhile, Jebel Ali Dragons 3rds retained their grip on top spot as they beat Al Ain Amblers 3rds 41-7, which takes them onto 152 points from three games.
They hold a five-point advantage after three matches over the second-placed Arabian Knights 2nds.
A little history was made when Dubai Hurricanes 3rds fielded a team for the first time and they would have been delighted with the 43-7 win against the UAE Shaheen, who are still searching for their first win in their first foray into competitive domestic rugby.
The Beaver Nomads are two from two as another unbeaten team this season and they ran in an impressive nine tries in a 47-17 victory over Dubai Sharks 3rds.