x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Gulf Top Six show Dubai Exiles are returning from the abyss

Almost extinct this time last year, the Dubai Exiles are back from the brink thanks to a strong performance from players off their youth programmes. Paul Radley reports.

Michael Sole, centre, and Michael Stubbs are part of a revival going on with the Dubai Exiles.
Michael Sole, centre, and Michael Stubbs are part of a revival going on with the Dubai Exiles.

What a difference a year makes. This time last season, the Dubai Exiles, the city's oldest and most storied club, was on the verge of meltdown.

In March 2012 the club's pool of senior players had dwindled to the extent they were forced to forfeit their final match of the Premiership season, and then withdraw altogether from competing in the UAE Cup.

Twelve months on, the apocalypse never did arrive. Sustained by a new squad packed full of talented young players, the regeneration of the Exiles is in full bloom.

At the weekend they took a first Gulf Top Six scalp by beating title-chasing Doha.

"It was a superb feeling and long overdue," said Mike Wolff, the Exiles chairman.

"We lost to the Hurricanes in the last move of that match recently, and have at times in other matches pushed [teams close] through some great rugby and scoring some cracking tries.

"But this was the first time we were able to deliver what we knew we could at the final whistle."

While six successive defeats at the start of this competition may have veiled the strides they had taken, the re-emergence of the Exiles has not gone unnoticed elsewhere.

Not so long ago, they may have been regarded as easy prey for a side like the Jebel Ali Dragons.

But Paul Hart, the Dragons' captain, has warned his side that only their best will be good enough if they are to keep their pursuit of a final place on track against the Exiles this evening.

Typically, the 26-25 triumph over Doha was built on the club's bright young prospects, such as Michael Stubbs and Michael Sole.

The production line of talent washing through the club's mini and youth section is the envy of most clubs, other than perhaps the Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in this country. Such productivity brings with it problems, too.

The club are often deprived of some of their most talented youngsters for at least three years when they travel abroad to study.

However, it is the sort of headache that is best nursed with pride rather than pain killers, according to Wolff.

"The loss of exciting talent as the players leave school remains a frustrating issue," he said.

"Overall I don't see the situation improving greatly anytime soon. All we can hope for is that the likes of James Blakemore, JJ Fanucci and Stefan Venter come back to the Dubai Exiles one day in their playing careers."

 

pradley@thenational.ae

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