x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dragons know Quins will be standing in their way at Dubai Sevens

The Jebel Ali Dragons will start the rugby calendar's showpiece competition as strong favourites to reclaim the Gulf Men's Sevens title they last won in 2009.

Michael Mc Farlane of the Abu Dhabi Harlequins tackles a Frog's player during a game on Friday at Zayed Sports City.
Michael Mc Farlane of the Abu Dhabi Harlequins tackles a Frog's player during a game on Friday at Zayed Sports City.

 

ABU DHABI // Shane Thornton, the player-coach of the Jebel Ali Dragons, should be rightly proud of the fact his side have become the first UAE Sevens Series champions.

However, the New Zealander will also have the bruises to suggest that repeating the success at next weekend's Dubai Rugby Sevens will be anything but a foregone conclusion.

The Dragons will start the rugby calendar's showpiece competition as strong favourites to reclaim the Gulf Men's Sevens title which they last won in 2009.

However, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins laid down a marker both notionally and physically as they won their home leg of the inaugural national Sevens Series on Friday.

Thornton's side had already effectively sealed the overall title by taking maximum points from their home competition two weeks earlier, then by doing the same in Al Ain the following week.

With a side loaded with attacking excellence, they looked set to do the same again at Zayed Sports City, but they were ambushed by a determined home side.

In the course of their 17-12 loss to the Harlequins, Thornton was levelled by a crunching tackle by Michael McFarlane, the imposing Quins centre.

It was the first time the two sides had met during the three-tournament series, and was a repeat of the outcome when the two sides met in the final XVs match before the sevens series hiatus.

"The Dragons have had a great series," Chris Davies, the director of rugby at Abu Dhabi Harlequins, said. "Junior [Thornton] has had a big influence on them and has done an absolutely great job.

"You could see that in their play. Before this tournament they would have been favourites among the local sides going to Dubai, so it was great to get this result."

The vast majority of the extended UAE squad to play in the World Series competition next weekend were absent, having been ordered to rest by the side's coach, Wayne Marsters.

However, Friday's tournament in the capital was conspicuous as much for the searing talent on show that Marsters can appreciate, but not select, as it was for the absentees.

Rory Binder was characteristically excellent for the Dragons, but remains in eligibility limbo, while Patrick Hegarty's virtuoso display was the centre point of the Harlequins campaign.

Hegarty does not qualify to play for the UAE until the start of next year, as is intriguingly the case with Thornton.

The veteran Dragons player-coach had been in charge of the UAE sevens side until recently and, despite his acrimonious departure, he is keen to make himself available for selection when he becomes eligible.

"Another experienced person in there would help out as they try to move forward," Thornton said.

 

pradley@thenational.ae