x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Hanks keeps sight of real goal in rugby's UAE thriller

The Wasps director of rugby is impressed by the facilities at the Emirates Palace and excited by the landmark game with Harlequins in the capital on Sunday.

Ella Greene, nine, was all smiles after getting an autograph from Ben Jacobs after the Wasps' training session.
Ella Greene, nine, was all smiles after getting an autograph from Ben Jacobs after the Wasps' training session.

ABU DHABI // You could say there was a real buzz in the London Wasps camp yesterday.

Officials of the English rugby union club are proud that their ground-breaking move to take a competitive British match to Abu Dhabi is on the verge of fruition. Harlequins, their London rivals, will providing fitting opposition in the round three LV Cup match.

Tony Hanks, Wasps' New Zealand-born director of rugby, is excited by the prospect of the latest confrontation between two of the game's oldest adversaries which will be televised from the expansive grounds of Emirates Palace on Sunday.

"The facilities are superb and so is the pitch," Hanks said. "We are delighted we have been able to do this and we are grateful that nobody raised any objections."

Wasps are officially the home team and Harlequins, who have a strong affiliation with their Abu Dhabi namesakes, were more than willing to be visitors here, rather than make the journey from London to the normal away ground of Adams Park in High Wycombe.

"We are going to get a lot of positive work done while we are here," Hanks said. "When you have the sun on your back in an environment like this, you can't help but put in some quality training.

"We want to embrace the culture and enjoy the visit but, ultimately, it's all about winning. Whenever we meet Harlequins, and no matter what competition we meet them in, it is always a full-on game. This will be the same.

"Of course, we want to play good open rugby if we get the chance and put on an entertaining show for those who come here to watch - and for those watching at home.

"You want both teams to adopt that approach. It is important this game takes place in a good spirit." Trevor Woodman, the England World Cup-winning prop, warned however, that the outcome will initially be determined by a brutal battle between the forwards.

Woodman, who coaches the Wasps forwards, said: "Most games are won up front and we like to try to dominate in that department.

"The likes of Tom Varndell [the winger] in these conditions will be wanting more of the ball than normal and we are aware of that. We have our game plan but we are not going to be chucking the ball around just to make it a spectacle. We want to try to entertain but we mustn't abandon our normal style.

"Nevertheless, Harlequins and ourselves always strive to play entertaining rugby. So I think you are going to see an entertaining game."

Both teams will be lacking key players through call-ups for international training camps but the Wasps coach says that is sometimes a problem to be welcomed.

Hanks, who has released Simon Shaw and Joe Worsley to the England camp in Portugal and has Andy Powell linking up with Wales, said: "It gives a chance to some of the fringe players to get extra game time. You can do all the training you like, but putting them in competitive environments is invaluable.

"The next month is a very important run for us and it starts here. We had a good run before Christmas and we want another now."

That will mean avenging the recent 17-10 defeat by Quins played in conditions in London that will in stark contrast to those the players will encounter in the capital on Sunday.

"We were poor defensively in the first half last time we met at their place and we were poor offensively in the second half," Hanks said. "We have the capabilities to make up that seven-point deficit."

Lawrence Dallaglio, the former England captain, is Wasps most famous player. Now a director at the club, he said: "To be the first club to take a competitive game of rugby overseas reflects Wasps' desire to be innovative.

"We know that there will be some disappointment from those fans who cannot travel but we also know that our fans want long-term success. One-off opportunities can only help build our profile and strengthen our global brand."

 

wjohnson@thenational.ae

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