x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

New signings show the intentions of Abu Dhabi Saracens

More than 30 players have been acquired for the new UAE Premiership season.

Dougie Steele will play at fly-half for Abu Dhabi Saracens this season.
Dougie Steele will play at fly-half for Abu Dhabi Saracens this season.

ABU DHABI // Domestic rugby raised a collective eyebrow when the name Abu Dhabi Saracens appeared on the fixture list for the newly pared down UAE Premiership for the forthcoming season.

The capital's youngest club enjoyed a solid first campaign having entered at Conference level last term, but it was hardly spectacular.

Even though the game's rulers here pointed to the club's ambition, as well as the fact they have enough players to enter two sides into domestic competition, as reason for optimism it was still a bold step for the men in black to accept the offer of top-tier rugby so soon.

There have been a number of cautionary tales in recent years of clubs who have gone up on the back of strong Conference campaigns, only for their circumstances to suddenly alter.

Saracens have swapped places with the Al Ain Amblers and the Arabian Knights, formerly Toa Dubai, this season. Each of those clubs rose to the top level together on the back of powerful performances in the second tier. Yet each have suffered from availability problems since. They will both will be grateful for the chance to consolidate in a more forgiving division this season.

If activity in the summer transfer market is anything to go by, however, rival clubs should be fearful of Saracens, rather than fearful for them.

The club have recruited more than 30 new players, and some with notable calibre. They will kick off their trial matches at the Amblers this afternoon with Pete Sampson, the UAE national team hooker, as captain, as well as a pedigree recruit in the key position of fly-half.

Dougie Steele has arrived in Abu Dhabi to work in the corporate sector, direct from playing Scottish Premier League One rugby with Ayr.

"It's an exciting time for Sarries and I'm very happy with my decision to join them," said Steele, 22.

"There's a lot of work to be done for us to take home some silverware over the next few seasons and I'm looking forward to making my mark and helping drive the development of the club."

There are distinct parallels to the success story across the city. The Abu Dhabi Harlequins' rise to the very top of the domestic game has been piloted over the last four years by a No 10 who made his reputation in Scotland's top division.

If Steele can have half the effect his compatriot Murray Strang has had at Quins, it will be a major boon for both Saracens and UAE rugby. Steve Arnott, the Saracens chairman, believes Steele's arrival is proof there is now a genuine second option for the capital's rugby players.

"Dougie has settled into the Sarries family superbly and his leadership, physical strength and rugby skills are truly impressive," Arnott said. "We are delighted that he has decided to join us. The traditional big draw in the capital for players of Dougie's calibre has been Quins.

"But with Sarries now competing at the same level in the UAE Premiership, top talent are considering us for our social vibe and the challenges that come with being the new kids on the block."

pradley@thenational.ae

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