Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 28 May 2020

Abu Dhabi Saracens coach Peter Henderson proud of his champions but still has regrets

Coronavirus means Sarries miss out on the chance of a grand final

Peter Henderson said he is left with mixed feelings despite signing off his time as coach of Abu Dhabi Saracens with the UAE Division One title.

The Australian oversaw a season in which his side won all nine of their league matches with a bonus point, extending their undefeated record beyond 500 days in the process.

They had been set to enter a playoff semi-final against Sharjah Wanderers, before the season was curtailed by the coronavirus outbreak.

Henderson had spoken out against the idea of playing the finals series as a precursor to next season, after that idea was initially floated by the UAE Rugby Federation last week.

Then on Tuesday, Saracens were declared champions anyway, after Gulf Rugby Management ruled there would be no matches carried over to next season after all.

Despite agreeing with the decision, Henderson said he felt for the other sides who had been set for the playoffs.

“We were in an unfortunate situation last year, where we were denied an opportunity, unfairly we felt, to represent ourselves in a finals push,” Henderson said.

“The same can be said for Sharjah Wanderers, Dubai Hurricanes and Al Ain in our league this year. We know what it is like to be in their shoes.

“All coaches and clubs are always building up to hit our absolute peak at that finals series.

“I am so proud of the boys and I believe we would have won the grand final, but we want to do it shaking hands with the opposition, in sweat-soaked shirts, lifting a trophy.

“For reasons beyond anyone’s control, that hasn’t been able to happen.”

Henderson is now stepping down from his role in charge, having overseen their rise from the point of being 36 hours away from being thrown out of the competition, right to the top of the second tier.

He cautions against the idea of accepting promotion back to the top tier, though, despite their success this season.

“We are a season ahead of our four-year plan, but the top Premiership clubs are in the well-earned position of being able to pay or subsidise some of their players, or get them jobs," he said.

“We are just not in that position. Throughout the season, I get two or three emails per week from players reaching out saying, ‘Hey, I’d love to come and play rugby for you, here’s my video clips on YouTube, here’s what I’ve done in rugby’.

“That’s all great. Then I turn around and say they have to pay their subs, and they look at me as if I’m mad.

“If you want to play for Saracens, you have to pay your subs. I’m on the committee, I’m the director of rugby, and I pay my subs to wear the Sarries’ jersey.

“I played semi-professionally in the UK, and what I took from that is what divides rugby clubs most is who is getting what, when, and how.”

After their formation in 2011, Saracens reached the very top of Gulf rugby in quick time.

Having become West Asia Premiership champions, though, they suffered a sharp fall which included being briefly evicted from their home ground.

They dropped down to the second tier at the start of the 2018-2019 season, and have now won the title.

“Helping get us to where we are now, I’m pretty exhausted,” Henderson said.

“I need to focus on my family and my job now, rather than worrying about skills, drills, training, selection and videos.

“It is time to spend some time with my family, and Sarries needs some fresh ideas to go forward with.”

Updated: April 1, 2020 12:38 PM

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