The Dubai Exiles are still upbeat for Friday's rugby union meeting with the Abu Dhabi Harlequins, despite a long-term injury to team captain Garteh Venter, writes Paul Radley.
No Gareth Venter, no problem
The Dubai Exiles might be forgiven for approaching a competition which involves daunting trips to Doha and Bahrain, as well as an opening day meeting with the defending champions, with a dose of trepidation.
Factor in the fact they have lost their captain, Gareth Venter, to a long-term leg injury, and the assignment appears even tougher.
It speaks volumes for the renewed spirit at Dubai's oldest club, however, that the Exiles are riding a wave of optimism ahead of this afternoon's Gulf Top Six kick-off against the Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
Having secured their place in the cross-border competition by snatching fourth place in the UAE Premiership before Christmas, the Exiles then embarked on an uplifting sevens campaign. For the first time in a while, they were challengers again.
Such was the severity of his injury, sustained in the final match of the Premiership campaign in November, Venter is still on crutches now. But, even in absentia from the field, he attests to an upbeat spirit at his club.
"The atmosphere that built up [during the sevens season] is still very much there, and it feels great to have that back at our club now," Venter said.
"We know we have some classy players. It was a continuation of the spirit within the group of players which came to the fore.
"We still have a bit of Christmas pudding to work off, but the boys are not looking too bad and it is the same for all teams."
Harlequins, the visitors at The Sevens this afternoon, start the second phase of the domestic season with an unusually empty feeling lingering.
The capital club missed out on two trophies at the end of 2012, losing out in the final of the Premiership and then the Dubai Rugby Sevens. Those losses will provide a powerful incentive for the holders of the Top Six title, according to Chris Davies, the Quins director of rugby.
"We are the defending champions and it is something that we wish to retain, especially after the disappointment of losing two finals of late," Davies said.
"We consider it the pinnacle. The likes of Doha and Bahrain are tough opposition in their own right, then when you factor in the type of environment they create at their home games - that is the sort of competition we need.
"To have a competition like this in the area is what is needed if we are going to make the national team stronger."
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE