x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Leyden hiring can get job done for Jebel Ali Dragons

The Irish forward's move to the UAE represents an indication of the side's seriousness and professional approach.

Jebel Ali Dragons, in dark blue, have promoted the prospect of playing for the national side to potential recruits.
Jebel Ali Dragons, in dark blue, have promoted the prospect of playing for the national side to potential recruits.

DUBAI // Water-cooler bragging rights will be at stake when colleagues from the same recruitment consultancy line up against each other in what could be a pivotal match in the UAE Premiership.

If things had worked out differently this summer, John Fawls, the Dubai Exiles and UAE back, and Richie Leyden might have ended up as teammates.

Leyden, a 6ft 4in forward, emailed a variety of rugby clubs in the UAE in search of a new club, having decided the time was right to leave his native Dublin.

The rest of the field may already be ruing the decision not to match the exhaustive efforts by the Jebel Ali Dragons to secure his signature. The 29-year-old No 8 has made an instant impression on arrival in Dubai, as befits a former professional who was playing alongside some of Ireland's top players until recently.

Leyden might have still been playing full-time now, were it not for an injury three years into his embryonic career with Leinster, who are now the European champions.

The outlook may be different now after putting on hold a 10-year allegiance to the club he captained in Ireland to come to Dubai, but he already feels a responsibility to his new teammates.

Leyden said Paul Hart, the Dragons captain, "was getting in touch every couple of days".

He added: "It was that sort of attitude which turned my eye to the Dragons. He was doing anything and everything he could to get me set up in Dubai. The extra effort is what makes it.

"That is the kind of club I like. It is the same way back at Belvedere, it was the same at my school. It is all about the understanding you are coming to a new place but you are going to be part of a team."

The process which eventually led him to settle on Jebel Ali is indicative of the robust recruitment methods now in force at the leading clubs like the Dragons and the Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

Whereas clubs once relied on word of mouth to attract newly arrived expatriates - and most still do - the Dragons approached Leyden while he was still in Dublin, and even helped him look for employment here.

"Player recruitment was my top priority this summer and when I saw his rugby profile, I jumped all over it," Hart said.

"You only have to look online to see that he has played alongside guys like Brian O'Driscoll, Felipe Contepomi, James Heaslip and Jonny Sexton, so we had established his calibre.

"With his age, he is not just a 40 year old who has been there and done that, he is still a fit lad.

"It wasn't a case that we needed to trial him, but we wanted to get him into the club. He is certainly a Dragon now."

The Dragons actively promoted to potential recruits the fact three years of residency here qualifies a man to play international rugby for the UAE.

Even though he has 33 months still to go in the eligibility process, the idea already appeals to Leyden.

"I'm always going to want to play rugby, and to play it at an international level," Leyden said.

"No matter where it is, whether it is Ireland, England or the UAE, it is a great honour to represent a country.

"You never want rugby to finish. You always want to play and you want to play at the top level, no matter what age you are at."

pradley@thenational.ae

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