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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Dragons determined to wrest back Gulf Men's League trophy from Quins grasp at Dubai Rugby Sevens

Jebel Ali and Abu Dhabi clubs have won every Gulf title every year since 2011, with Harlequins coach McFarlane expecting a 'tough year'

UAE powerhouse Abu Dhabi Harlequins will be vying for another title. Pawan Singh / The National
UAE powerhouse Abu Dhabi Harlequins will be vying for another title. Pawan Singh / The National

The last time a name other than Jebel Ali Dragons or Abu Dhabi Harlequins was inscribed on the Gulf Men’s League trophy at the Dubai Rugby Sevens, the Burj Khalifa had not long been open.

When Barrelhouse stunned the local competition to break the duopoly in 2010, the Green Line on Dubai Metro was not yet operational, and Ferrari World had only just opened its doors to the public in Abu Dhabi.

If Harlequins can retain their title at the weekend, it would extend their run to four successive titles – and thus better the record sequence managed by their Dragons rivals.

Mike McFarlane, the Harlequins coach, says his side have their work cut out to defend the trophy, given the raft of changes his side have had this season.

“It will be a tough year,” McFarlane said. “Every year the competition gets stronger and stronger.

"If you look at the personnel that clubs have brought in, as we have seen it the XVs, I’m sure it will have a big impact on the sevens as well.

“But if you look at the type of players we have got, we pride ourselves on our core skills and fitness, and that should translate to sevens quite nicely.”

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Dragons are desperate to reclaim the crown they last won in 2013. They have employed a variety of measures to try to ascend back to the top, some more spurious than others.

Their mascot, for example, is likely to be the most eye-catching and elaborate at the competition – a massive Chinese dragon, which will welcome each of their various sides onto the playing field.

More practically, ahead of the new domestic season they recruited players who specialise in the abbreviated format, to play under the guidance of Henry Paul, the former England sevens star.

And their opposition for a pre-tournament friendly could not have been any better qualified, either. Fiji played against them in a friendly game of scrag at Dubai Sports City on Saturday.

“It was a great experience,” said Matt Richards, who joined Dragons from city rivals Dubai Exiles this season specifically to target the Sevens title.

“Playing against the Olympic champions was quality. These guys are the best at what they do, and it was brilliant to see how they reacted to different scenarios.

“It is different playing against them, compared to what you see watching them on TV. It has been invaluable for us, looking at all the footage we have got, the mistakes we were making, and the strengths that worked as well.

“Playing against a ridiculously high-quality side like that highlighted what we need to work on before the tournament kicks off.”