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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Bahrain 'delighted to be asked' to take part in Western Clubs Champions League

Take on Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the capital this weekend before a trip to Sri Lanka to face Kandy

Bahrain will arrive in Abu Dhabi this weekend for the first fixture of the Western Clubs Champions League against the defending champions the ABu Dhabi Harlequins, seen here in the green, red and white strip. Ravindranath K / The National
Bahrain will arrive in Abu Dhabi this weekend for the first fixture of the Western Clubs Champions League against the defending champions the ABu Dhabi Harlequins, seen here in the green, red and white strip. Ravindranath K / The National

Following a harsh financial summer for the region’s leading rugby clubs, Bahrain are preparing to go on a round trip of around 8,000kms in a bid to win the first trophy of the new season.

Bahrain will arrive in Abu Dhabi this weekend for the first fixture of the Western Clubs Champions League against the defending champions the Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

In two weeks’ time they will fly to Sri Lanka, with coach Louie Tonkin hoping they will be in a position to be playing for the title when they meet the island’s champion club, Kandy.

“We are really excited to be asked to be in it,” Tonkin said of Bahrain’s debut in the Champions League.

“We were delighted to be asked. It is great for us to be exposed to a competition like this, playing against the champions from two respective unions. It is hugely exciting.

“There is obviously an element of preparation for the West Asia Premiership, because that is our priority.

“Kandy are very strong at home, getting four-figure crowds sometimes, so it is going to be a huge experience for the guys.

“We looked at some games online, and it looks like a great place to play. But there is also a trophy to play for. It is a great opportunity to pick up some silverware this early in the season.”

Harlequins and their visitors on Friday are familiar rivals. When they meet in Saar for Bahrain’s first Premiership match of the campaign, on September 29, they will have played each other four times in the space of six competitive fixtures between the end of last season and the start of this.

Bahrain were runners-up to Harlequins in the West Asia Cup last season, which earned them their entry to the Champions League.

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After the unprecedented excellence of last season, when they won five major trophies, Harlequins have typified the summer of struggles in regional rugby.

The capital’s longest established club pushed for the expansion of the season-opening competition, having reaped significant benefits from pre-season tours to Sri Lanka in the past.

However, they have subsequently lost funding via a long-term sponsorship deal with Etihad Airways, and were nearly unable to meet their obligation to travel.

They have also lost significant playing riches from their formidable playing squad of last season, although they have offset that somewhat with several of high-class arrivals from their city neighbours Saracens.

Mike McFarlane, the Harlequins coach, deemed their matches against Bahrain as their toughest tests of last season, and Tonkin, his opposite number, is sure the tourists have improved since.

“We had a good season last time, and we want to follow that up,” Tonkin said.

“There have been some disappointing developments in terms of the lack of funding in West Asia, and it is disappointing to have that support pulled.

“We have recruited some good players, but more importantly we have kept our squad together. We had some significant injuries to key players last season, but they are fighting fit now.

“We think we are much more mentally strong this season, and we have been working hard on that in the summer, building expectation.”