While the country’s leading sides compare notes on who has made the most sparkling signings of the off-season, its oldest institution has been more concerned with the nuts and bolts of running a club.
Not that the Dubai Exiles have been short on summer transfers. They have brought in pedigree players, such as Xander van der Westhuizen, a centre who has played Vodacom Cup rugby for the Lions in South Africa in the past.
But of greater source of satisfaction for Jan Venter, the Exiles head coach, is the fact the country’s most decorated club will be able to field two sides again this afternoon. The famous old club has righted itself after dark days. “The exciting thing is that I have two full squads now,” Venter said.
“That was a target we had and it is really nice to be able to achieve that. I must be honest, when I realised at training on Wednesday night that I was going to have two full squads it was a very exciting time for me. I really loved that.”
Despite having a larger membership base than anyone else, the city’s longest-established club dispensed with a second team entirely last season. The previous campaign had been curtailed prematurely when the Exiles were incapable of fielding a first team. It was the shock that awoke the sleeping giant of UAE rugby.
Venter is delighted that a three-point plan to revive the men’s section at the Exiles has come together just in time for the new season.
The second team is fully manned. Three under 18s players, including the coach’s highly-talented son Janneman, are in the first XV squad.
That suggests there now exists a bridge between the thriving youth section at the Exiles and their senior counterparts.
Thirdly, Venter has been able to pick a new loose-head prop, who is the first player to join the Exiles as part of an exchange scheme with the Stellenbosch Rugby Academy. As part of the agreement, talented players will be exchanged between the Exiles and one of South Africa’s most noted finishing schools.
“We are feeling very positive but in this league we know any game can go either way,” Venter said.
“I’m confident we will do well. We have something to build on and I’m not saying we will win this year, but we are making baby steps.”