x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Murray Strang has switched sides but still comes out as a winner

Murray Strang especially enjoyed the winners’ ceremony, cheering frantically when his captain was presented the trophy. Yet what made it all the more mystifying was that a group of Abu Dhabi Harlequins diehards, who serenaded Strang from the thoroughfare below.

ebel Ali Dragons, in blue, were able to run past Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in green and red, right to the Dubai Rugby Sevens Gulf Men's League title at The Sevens, Dubai, on Saturday. Jake Badger for The National
ebel Ali Dragons, in blue, were able to run past Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in green and red, right to the Dubai Rugby Sevens Gulf Men's League title at The Sevens, Dubai, on Saturday. Jake Badger for The National

DUBAI // Murray Strang must have wondered what was going on.

The Jebel Ali Dragons fly-half had just helped guide his side to the Gulf Men’s League crown, and he promptly decided to lead them to the top of the podium, too.

Few would begrudge him the honour, given that he has featured for the past five years at the Dubai Rugby Sevens and departed only with bumps and bruises.

No wonder, then, he seemed to especially enjoy the winners’ ceremony, cheering frantically when his captain was presented the trophy.

Yet what made it all the more mystifying was that a group of diehards, decked in Abu Dhabi Harlequins colours, serenaded Strang from the thoroughfare below.

You see, his first-half try was instrumental in a 19-7 victory over the capital club, a team he represented with distinction until last season.

Evidently, past contributions have not been quickly forgotten.

“Yeah, they were singing, ‘You’re still a Harlequin’,” said a clearly delighted Strang. “To get that when you’ve just beaten them is really nice, because I’d expect a bit of stick. But it’s always been good-natured. They’re a great club.”

Work commitments eventually convinced Strang to swap the Quins for the Dragons, following an extended period of loyal service to the former. A Dubai resident for the past three years, he spent the initial two seasons making the arduous commute to Abu Dhabi, but because the journey is not conducive to a 30-something sportsman, something had to give.

Seeing as the Dragons have long rivalled the Quins for domestic bragging rights, they were the obvious choice. Apart from the obligatory lighthearted banter, old mates have remained firm friends.

“They’re a great bunch of lads,” Strang said. “A brilliant club, who have been nothing but gracious every time I played against them. I’ve really enjoyed keeping those relations up.”

The ribbing may just crank up a notch. Strang was not the only architect of the Dragons victory, though, as his try was sandwiched between efforts from Taif Al Delamie and Andy Russell.

Jordan Burns gave the Quins hope early in the second half, but it was not enough to ruin Strang’s moment in the sun.

“It’s an absolute amazing feeling, to be honest,” he said, despite an injured hamstring that hampered him. “I wasn’t quite prepared for it at the end, and I’m just absolutely delighted.

“I’ve been here, played five times in a really tough tournament and lost every one. And to play in this exact fixture last year with my Harlequins jersey on and to lose to the Dragons means this has been a long time coming.

“When that final whistle went it was just joy. It’s a long three days; I’ve got friends over from the UK and I’ve had to say no to the socialising and the late nights, so to go all the way and finish it off is absolutely amazing.

“And I suppose it makes it all the more pleasurable winning when you know you’re up against a quality side, too.”

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GULF 18s: MAXFIELD IN THE PINK FOR DUBAI COLLEGE

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Tucked tight on the right-hand touchline, facing the most populated and vociferous stand at the Sevens and confronted by a kick that could conceivably seal an anticipated Gulf Under 18s Trophy title, you would have forgiven Augus Maxfield for wanting to keep a low profile.

Yet, as even the name suggests, the Dubai College sweeper does not do inconspicuous.

With his side leading by 10 points against Dubai English Speaking College in this age-category final, Maxfield trotted confidently across to take the conversion, dropped the ball and casually stroked it between the posts.

Good job he did, given he was wearing easily the flashiest pair of boots on show.

“If you wear pink [boots] you’ve got to be really good,” said Andy Jones, the Dubai College coach, after his boys lifted a third successive crown.

“We’d just been telling him to block out everything, that it’s just another game. Which is very difficult with 30,000 people watching.

“But he seemed to just have that composure within himself to get the job done.”

Like their match-winning teammate, Dubai College’s class of 2013 are no shrinking violets.

Given the resources and history of an institute that prides itself as the premier British international school in the Middle East, much is expected.

So their eventual 19-17 victory sat particularly well with everyone linked to the new champions.

“We lay that into them as their challenge,” Jones said.

“People expect Dubai College to do well, and we expect them to step up to that. It can sometimes be seen as a negative thing, but we always say when you come to ‘DC’ you’ve got a great reputation and a tradition to live up.

“And fair play to the boys – they seem to step up year after year.

“We’re very, very satisfied with the way they handle themselves on the big occasion.

“We’re ultra proud.”

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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