x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

New boys Saracens show they belong among UAE Premiership elite

Victory over the UAE champions Jebel Ali Dragons shows Abu Dhabi’s second club are on the right track.

Abu Dhabi Saracens beat Jebel Ali Dragons last weak 16-7, a landmark victory for the young club. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Abu Dhabi Saracens beat Jebel Ali Dragons last weak 16-7, a landmark victory for the young club. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

If the history of Abu Dhabi Saracens ever does come to be written, one decision from the early days is likely to stick out as having made a significant difference to their progress.

In the summer of 2012, the club opted to accept promotion to the top flight of UAE rugby.

It was a bold move, given that the one season they had been existence had mostly been concerned with getting a full side on to the field, let alone contending.

They were thrashed in their early games of competition rugby, and they were nowhere near the best UAE Conference side in their debut campaign.

Many clubs with better records than that have thought they were ready for promotion to the big league, yet slumped when they got there.

They traded places with Arabian Knights and Al Ain Amblers. Each of those clubs had struggled with just that problem — playing against the country’s best sides without the player base to support a team for much of the time.

Cautionary tales like that did not put Saracens off — and they are reaping the rewards now.

Last weekend, the country’s youngest club defeated its best, when Saracens won 16-7 against the UAE champions, Jebel Ali Dragons, and on enemy territory, as well.

If they repeat the trick against their regular sparring partners, Xodus Wasps, on Friday, they will almost certainly advance to the elite Gulf Top Six competition.

Ironically, it would be at the expense of the country’s oldest club, Dubai Exiles, who have 40 years more pedigree than Saracens.

“Of course, I want us to prove ourselves not just to rugby in the UAE but to myself that I have made the right choices,” said Dave Jackson, the Saracens president and co-founder.

“The Dragons result proved the right decision was made. It proved we belong in the division.”

Saracens’ win at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence was even more impressive as it was the first match the team had played since Lele Tusitala, their captain, had been forced into retirement by injury.

“I’m still reeling from the result — that is last year’s champion and we beat them,” Jackson said. “It is something that will live in the club’s history for a long, long time.

“For us, as the baby club in UAE, there are little things you try to achieve. For this, our third season, it is to put our best foot forward to get into the Gulf Top Six.”

pradley@thenational.ae