x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

'Home' truths for the Dubai Exiles

Mike Cox-Hill, director of rugby at Dubai Exiles, hopes some changes off the field will help inspire the side to more success on it.

Mike Cox-Hill is hoping to foster a sense of team spirit with the Dubai Exiles.
Mike Cox-Hill is hoping to foster a sense of team spirit with the Dubai Exiles.

When the old Dubai Exiles rugby ground in Al Awir was demolished at the start of 2008 as part of the city's construction boom, much was lost in the game here.

Sure, each of the evicted clubs who had called the Exiles pitch home had a shiny and new purpose-built ground to move into, at The Sevens, straight away.

But, three-and-a-half years on, many are still battling an identity crisis. Few have struggled with the transition as much as the Exiles themselves.

The former landlords, who had played at that site since 1969, have had to become accustomed to life as tenants. It has not been easy, especially when married to the fact that success on the field has remained hard to come by.

Their Gulf Top Six meeting with Dubai Hurricanes, the defending champions, this afternoon is a reprisal of the first grand final to be played at The Sevens, the 2008 Gulf Premiership climax. Both would be happy to be in that position, come the end of this campaign.

The Hurricanes have had an uncharacteristically troubled start to the season, but when they talk about being a club in transition, they think in weeks, rather than years. The Exiles, by contrast, are searching for a way to recapture a glorious past which is threatening to become sepia tinted.

"It has been a difficult journey for us to make," said Mike Cox-Hill, the UAE captain, who has been serving as the Exiles director of rugby since the summer.

Cox-Hill has taken over after another false dawn last term, which culminated in the departure, after less than one campaign in charge, of Ravin du Plessis, a director of rugby who promised much.

The main mission of Cox-Hill has been to foster a new spirit of togetherness at the club.

The old training regimes were the first to go. Now all the club's senior sides, from Under 18s to veterans, train together, immediately expanding the player pool, and creating an all-for-one spirit, too.

"We have recruited a lot of youth and changed our training policy," said David Vittes, the club captain, who has been driving the new ethos in harness with Cox-Hill.

"Everyone trains together, so straight away we had a bigger playing squad. It definitely helped."

A coat of paint has helped, too. The team have their own changing rooms at the Sevens, dressed up with Exiles logos. Every little bit helps, according to Cox-Hill.

"We have revisited our core values," he said. "It is more of a home-club feel now, rather than just a place to play rugby. We are trying to engender a professional mentality within an amateur environment.


---- #

#””#Follow #The National Sport # on @SprtNationalUAE# & Paul Radley on #@PaulRadley##

---- #