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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

New coach Henry Paul wants Jebel Ali Dragons to go on the attack next UAE rugby season

Former England player wants his team to adopt the sort of attacking verve he brought to playing the game, as embarks on a coaching role within the amateur game in the Middle East, writes Paul Radley.
Henry Paul, centre, poses with Dragons chairman Mike Lewis, left, and Paul Hart. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Henry Paul, centre, poses with Dragons chairman Mike Lewis, left, and Paul Hart. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // Henry Paul wants his team to adopt the sort of attacking verve he brought to playing the game, as embarks on a coaching role within the amateur game in the Middle East.

The former England centre relocated to Dubai from the north of the UK this summer, and he has taken up the position of head coach of Jebel Ali Dragons.

The dual-code international will lead his first training session with his new charges at the Centre of Excellence on Monday evening.

He has no apprehensions about meeting up with a new set of players, saying he hopes he will grab their attention “as long as I don’t bore them with too many cliches”.

That seems a recurring theme. Paul was known as a great entertainer as a player, most notably in league and sevens, and he hopes to continue in that vein while coaching in Dubai.

“I don’t like boring, five-man rugby,” Paul, 42, said. “I like to attack, and I hear in the UAE there is a ‘Let’s go for it’ attitude.

“I have seen some high scores in games, which is heart-attack time as a coach, but great for the spectators. I am looking forward to the season, meeting the players and their families and living in the UAE.”

The Dragons are in the throes of transition, as they bid to recapture the form that brought them trophy trebles in 2013 and 2014.

Some senior players, most prominently the former UAE captain Adam Telford, have retired, while Paul says first-team places are up for grabs for anyone who wants to try out.

Coaching part-time players may be a different experience for someone who had a lengthy career at the elite level of the professional game.

However, Paul says he is looking forward to the challenge, despite having little knowledge of the standard of the game here as yet.

“I’m new to Dubai, and have no experience with the standard of rugby, yet I do know some of the quality of players running around,” Paul said on Sunday.

“I love the challenge the game provides especially with a new group of players. I bring my own expectations which have suited me well so far in life which is to be smart, be positive and work hard while having fun.

“Everyone has their own reason to push themselves when they play. Rugby is such a demanding sport but it is also so rewarding when you give it your all, working as a team towards a common goal there’s no other sport like it in the world.”

Paul’s arrival in Dubai will revive memories of the time he was part of the winning England side at the 2005 Dubai Rugby Sevens, at the now defunct Dubai Exiles ground in Al Awir.

He was an outstanding sevens player who represented England at the Commonwealth Games, and he subsequently coached Russia on the World Series.

Despite playing full Test match rugby, as well as winning grand finals in league, he says that Dubai win 11 years ago is among his favourite memories of his playing days.

“It definitely ranks up in there in the memory banks as a great win,” he said. “We were probably the favourites because of what the team did winning the previous year, which heaped pressure on our squad.

“Playing the Fijians in the final was also nerve-racking because of the quality they possessed but the final really went the way of the bounce of ball. Thankfully Ben Gollings and Matthew Tait scored a couple of amazing tries and our defence held tight.”

A new equation with Apollo Perelini

Not so long ago, the UAE were right at the bottom of world rugby’s rankings, while the other code, rugby league, is basically non-existent in this country.

And yet, next season two of the greats of the 13-man game will be dispensing their expertise within the amateur sphere of UAE rugby union.

Henry Paul’s arrival in Dubai to coach Jebel Ali Dragons means he will be reacquainted with Apollo Perelini, the UAE national team coach.

The two have been friends off the field since being fierce foes on it in the English Super League, Paul with Wigan Warriors and Perelini with St Helens.

“He tormented me during his St Helens stint,” Paul said of the UAE coach. “I think I lost three big finals to AP and his Saints mob during my time with Wigan and Bradford.

“He is also the most humble and helpful person you could meet. AP always had great discipline and a great work ethic with a fun character. I can see why he has done well in Dubai.”

pradley@thenational.ae

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