x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

It's high noon for Garrett Noonan

Dubai Hurricanes forward ready to face the pressure in must-win game against Abu Dhabi Harlequins tomorrow, writes Paul Radley.

Garrett Noonan, centre, in action for the UAE, is grateful to be playing after health issues. Mike Young / The National
Garrett Noonan, centre, in action for the UAE, is grateful to be playing after health issues. Mike Young / The National

Dubai Hurricanes face a daunting challenge in overcoming the Abu Dhabi Harlequins and their all-star backline to keep their UAE Premiership title defence on track tomorrow.

In all likelihood the holders have to win to stand a chance of reaching the grand final next week. Even that may not be enough, depending on what the Jebel Ali Dragons do against the Dubai Exiles.

It will be a tough ask for the Hurricanes, but one of their number is used to challenges. Garrett Noonan is just grateful to be back playing at all.

At the turn of this year he was told to worry about returning to health rather than playing rugby, having been hospitalised after sustaining blood clots on his lungs after the UAE's first Cup of Nations campaign.

However, his recovery has been so seamless he has played a full part in the Hurricanes campaign to date, and is even targeting a return to national duty when the Cup of Nations returns in December.

"I went back to the doctor in July and he said I was OK to get back playing, and I've managed to play a role in all the game so far," the UAE second-row forward said.

"We haven't been playing spectacularly but we have been grinding out results.

"The pressure is on now so hopefully we'll perform and we are confident enough of beating them."

Noonan is one of a variety of Irish influences who have shaped the course of this Premiership season. Richie Leyden, who is a former teammate of Brian O'Driscoll et al at Leinster, has been the standout signing among the several new arrivals at the title-chasing Jebel Ali Dragons.

Jeremy Manning, the Abu Dhabi Harlequin who is the pre-eminent player in domestic rugby presently, is Irish qualified and represented the Irish Students, despite being about as Kiwi as the Haka.

Being an Irishman in UAE rugby is not always good for your health, though. Greg Thompson, one of the pillars of the national team, is facing up to six months out of the game after dislocating his shoulder playing for the Hurricanes.

He still has a steel plate in his face from when he fractured his cheekbone while on international duty. His absence will be keenly felt by the Hurricanes tomorrow, but he hopes to be back fit in time for the Asian Five Nations at the end of the season.

pradley@thenational.ae

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