Abu Dhabi Saracens’ players are relishing the chance to play in the inaugural Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League next month, although chairman Jay Danielson is playing down expectations.
Sarries will test themselves against three other champions from West Asia, including Kazakhstan National League winners Olymp, Gulf Top Six winners and familiar foes Doha, and Sri Lanka Dialog Rugby League champions Kandy.
Australian Danielson is excited to be a part of the tournament, which will be played between September 11-18, but is wary it comes at a time when Sarries will be at the height of preparations for the UAE Premiership kick-off a week later.
“It’s a bit of a double edged sword,” he said. “If we are competitive and do well I’ll be extremely happy, but there’s a little bit of me that thinks, ultimately, it’s preparation towards the start of the season.
“There will still probably be a few rusty bodies out there.”
Despite dampening expectations, Danielson says his men are excited to test themselves against new opponents and show the rest of the continent why they were crowned champions of West Asia last season.
“Of course we want to be the best, we don’t go into any game thinking any different,” said Danielson.
“The guys are pumped about it and being one of the first teams to play in it is great publicity for the club. I’m not going to say we’ll walk away with silverware but we’re excited to be in there. If we win, it’ll be great.”
"There will still probably be a few rusty bodies out there" – Danielson
Doha host Sarries on Friday, September 11, with Kandy facing Olymp in Dubai the following day.
Sarries welcome Kandy to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, September 15 with 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.
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Danielson thinks Kandy head into the tournament as favourites.
He said: “I imagine Kandy will be very strong. My understanding is they were very sharp last season, so I think they will be the team to beat.”
Sarries’ new joint player-coach Stephen Hamilton sees the tournament as a massive opportunity for his team.
“It’s massively exciting,” he added. “It will do wonders for ourselves, as well as Doha, Kandy and Olymp, so it’s a really good thing.
“We’ve got a brand and a name to uphold so it’s a massive opportunity to get us on the map and take a massive step forward.”
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