DUBAI // Jamie Clarke may have been out of sight for a while now, but the Doha-based flanker hopes to force his way back into the minds of the UAE selectors via the new Gulf Top Six campaign.
Clarke was at the helm for most of the ultimately victorious campaign for the Abu Dhabi Harlequins in this competition last season, before taking up a job in Qatar.
Since making the short move across the Arabian Gulf, he has been overlooked for selection for the UAE national team.
Judging by the evidence of the Cup of Nations before Christmas, when a dearth of experienced players led to the national team being thrashed in all three games, they could do with as many players of Clarke's ilk as possible.
The player himself has missed being involved in the international fold and is keen to catch the eye ahead of the Asian Five Nations at the end of this season.
"If the opportunity presents itself based on my performance then of course I would put my hand up for UAE rugby and A5N," said Clarke, who made his debut for the UAE in the 2011 Five Nations.
"It's a great honour to be a part of such a set-up. Only time will tell, for now the focus and priority is the Top Six and let's see what comes into fruition from there."
As he is yet to return from his Christmas holiday, Clarke will be absent when Doha host the Jebel Ali Dragons in their opening Top Six fixture this afternoon.
The two sides each pose compelling cases to be considered favourites for the tournament, although each fell at the final hurdle last time around.
"There has been a lot of talk among ourselves regarding last season, winning the West Asia Cup and missing out on other trophies so that is a big motivator," Clarke said.
"Doha has been a fortress of rugby and we will ensure that it stays that way for the rest of the season."
An trip to Qatar is arguably the toughest assignment on the fixture list in this competition, and the Dragons know they have little chance to rest on their laurels with two trophies already banked this season.
"We are working hard to replicate and exceed the standard we set by winning the UAE Premiership grand final," said Paul Hart, the Dragons captain.
"That victory was the result of hard work and momentum building over a six-week period. We simply must start this Gulf Top Six competition at a similar standard or we will not manage to add to the UAE Prem and sevens titles.
"We firmly believe the Top Six will see an increase in standard from the UAE Premiership and therefore create a large challenge for us."
Who's Who in the Gulf Top Six
Abu Dhabi Harlequins
Last year Winners
Key players Billy Graham, Jeremy Manning
In a nutshell The holders have the anguish of two finals defeats already this season fuelling the defence of their cross-border title. The UAE back Imad Reyal return to the fold after going absent at the Dubai Sevens.
Last year Sixth
Key players Rich Wilkinson, Luke Radley
In a nutshell After a torrid last season, Bahrain hope their home ground in Saar will become the fortress it once was. The revival has started, with four wins from five in the first half of the domestic campaign.
Last year Runners-up
Key players Jamie Clarke, Paul Beard
In a nutshell From the look of Qatar’s national team, whose players are almost exclusively drawn from the long established capital club, Doha will be formidable in the Top Six.
Last year Fifth
Key players Guy Potter, Harry Wood
In a nutshell The most decorated UAE club of recent seasons did not reach their usual high standards in the first half of the campaign. But they started slowly in 2012 and still won the Premiership after Christmas.
Last year Fourth
Key players Brett Williams, Jonny Fawls
In a nutshell The reemergence of Dubai’s oldest club continued pre-Christmas with an uplifting display during a month of sevens. They now will hope to transfer their form into the long game.
Jebel Ali Dragons
Last year Third
Key players Sean Crombie, Tim Fletcher
In a nutshell A triple crown was the target at the start of the season. So far, so good, with UAE Premiership and Dubai Sevens trophies already on the mantelpiece.
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