Abu Dhabi Saracens to test themselves against West Asia’s best

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Up for the battle: Abu Dhabi Saracens (l).

West Asia Cup champions Abu Dhabi Saracens will compete against the best teams from West Asia in the inaugural Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League next month.

The tournament will feature four champions from 2015’s cross border or domestic competitions from the UAE-Gulf, Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan, the winners being crowned the champion club in West Asia.

Sarries will come up against Sri Lanka Dialog Rugby League champions Kandy, Kazakhstan National League winners Olymp, as well as familiar foes Doha, the Qatar club qualifying as Gulf Top 6 champions.

Doha will host Sarries in the Qatari capital, the scene of the Al Ghazal men’s 26-20 West Asia triumph, on Friday, September 11, with Kandy facing Olymp in Dubai the following day.

Sarries welcome Kandy to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, September 15, Doha hosting Olymp the same day.

The final fixtures will both be held in Dubai on Friday, September 18, with Sarries taking on Olymp and Kandy playing Doha. 

Asia Rugby president, Trevor Gregory, said the union plans to host a similar tournament in East Asia, in the hope that the winners of each will meet to contest the title of being Asia’s best team outside of the Japan Top League.

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“Asia Rugby sees this new, annual competition as the bridge between senior domestic and international representative rugby and hopes it will give clubs the chance to compete for this prestigious new title,” he said. 

“Asia Rugby also hopes this will provide a new opportunity for clubs to further engage new players, supporters, volunteers and sponsors.

“Asia Rugby hope to develop the competition further to embrace more clubs and replicate it in the Eastern half of Asia, with the ultimate aim of having a play-off between the western and eastern winners to determine an overall Asia champion.”

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UAE target U20 Sevens Series improvement

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Chircher has high hopes for his side's chances.

Kip Chirchir is confident that the UAE Under-20’s team can surpass their efforts at the ARFU U20 Sevens Series last season. The UAE head to Malaysia between August 15-16, then to Hong Kong a week later, August 21-22, with the squad set to be announced in the coming days.

Chirchir was part of the mixed expatriate and Emirati team that played in the second leg of the tournament in Hong Kong last December and the Kenyan utility forward is hopeful of being on the plane to the Far East once again.

Now that performance manager Roelof Kotze and the national team selection committee have decided to allow expats to join the UAE sevens ranks full time, Chirchir believes the blend of the two can help his adopted homeland progress.

“There’s lots of raw talent among the Emiratis but they just need to build experience, said the 18-year-old, who can play prop, flanker or No8.

“The UAE is a good place for rugby but it’s not as strong as other places, like South Africa and New Zealand, where rugby is really strong.

“I played in December in Hong Kong, which was the first time expats were brought in. As expats we brought experience and I think it’s going to be really good for the local guys.

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“It helps give them confidence as they can pick up more skills as they watch us. We’re helping locals reach that competitive level.”

The Dubai English Speaking College pupil has been impressed with the development of the Emirati players since December and is adamant the team is in contention for a medal this time around, having won two of the seven games played in Hong Kong.

“From playing with them in December, I sort of had an idea of their talent, but they have surprised me this year,” said the former Dubai Hurricanes youth player.

“They’ve really stepped up and come a long way since December. I think we have a chance to win a medal in the tournament. Confidence is building. It will be tough but we can supersede what we did in December.”

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New Sarries centre already 'feels at home'

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Saracens are hoping to dispose city rivals Quins as the top team in the UAE.

Abu Dhabi Saracens latest signing Sean Stevens says he was “drawn” to the club after signing up for the new Premiership season.

Sarries officials have spoken of wanting to compete with their more illustrious neighbours for new signings and it seems their West Asia Cup triumph last season may well be paying dividends. The South African centre will step into the void left by departing compatriot Pieter Morton, who last month chose to defect to the Zayed Sports City team.

“Something drew me towards Saracens,” said 25-year-old Stevens.

“It’s more than just a rugby club. Family is a big part of what they stand for and a club I played for back home had the same ethos. Everyone knows each other, everyone’s friends, everyone’s welcome. I think it’s a good fit.

“There are South Africans here but everyone’s friendly and welcomed me with open arms. It’s already starting to feel like home.”

Stevens previously played Varsity Cup and Community Cup rugby in his homeland for Bloemfontein Police and the Central University of Technology, while an ACL knee reconstruction two years ago denied him of a chance to play for Welsh Rugby Union Premiership side Newport.

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After arriving in the UAE in January, Stevens was sold on the massive development going on throughout UAE rugby by a friend who previously played for Dubai Exiles. That led him to social media and his arrival at his new club.

“I went on Facebook, found Saracens and sent them a message. Sarries got back to me really quickly,” he said.

Sarries came of age last season, capped by their superb 26-20 win against Doha in the West Asia Cup final in Qatar in March. Head coach Ali Thompson and president Dave Jackson have both stepped down since, replaced by new coaching duo Stephen Hamilton and Craig Nutt and new chairman Jay Danielson, but Stevens sees no reason why that should set the club back.

He said: “They won the West Asia Cup last season, which was massive for the club. Craig’s got a good head on his shoulders. Stephen has a good idea about what needs to be done.

“The foundation’s been set and Stephen and Craig will try to keep that momentum from last year and improve. I don’t think much will change. They’ve found a system that works and we’re hoping to keep the success going. Training’s been great and the boys seem up for this year.” 

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