When the fixtures were finalised for the new season, it was never likely to go easy on the Abu Dhabi Saracens, the UAE Premiership new boys.
An opening day trip to face the Dubai Hurricanes, the defending champions, in their own back yard is not exactly an easy start, but they are going to have to get used to it quickly.
There will not to be any easy games for the top tier’s newest club. They would not have it any other way, however.
The Saracens, who are just starting their second season of domestic competition, opted to accept a place in the top flight because they want to be viewed as a serious alternative to their city rivals, the Harlequins.
From the look of their summer recruitment drive, it is already starting to work but the capital’s youngest club are in little doubt as to the size of the task ahead.
“Sarries are new to the Premiership and are going to be viewed as the underdogs in every game we play this season,” said Pete Sampson, the UAE hooker and new recruit.
“This is a very similar situation to where the UAE national team finds themselves. All the tough games for the Sarries this year are certainly going to better prepare me for the tough games on UAE international duty.”
Sampson was one of the headline signings of a summer in which more than 30 new players arrived, including some with national league experience in New Zealand and Scotland.
The 32-year-old South African is a former captain of Harlequins, for whom he played since first arriving in the capital in 2007.
“The Quins are a great club so leaving after five seasons was not an easy decision but the Sarries offer a very different environment,” Sampson said.
The rapid strides being made by Saracens has not gone unnoticed by their city rivals, not least because of the drift of players from Zayed Sports City back to Al Ghazal.
“It’s an exciting time for Sarries,” said Dave Jackson, the Saracens president.
“We have people joining us from all over the world and Pete is actually one of five ex-Quins players that have added much to our mix.”
The relationship between the two clubs is a good one for the future of UAE rugby, according to the governing body for the sport here.
“Having a rivalry between the two clubs is great, it can only help the promotion of the game there,” Ian Bremner, the chief executive of UAE Rugby, said during the summer.
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