x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 24 October 2017

Dubai Sports City Eagles take long view despite defeat in Premiership opener

Newest rugby club in Emirates calls new initiative not a one-year project but a five-year one

Dubai Sports City Eagles, in green, played hard Dubai Exiles, one of the more established sides in the UAE. Reem Mohammed / The National
Dubai Sports City Eagles, in green, played hard Dubai Exiles, one of the more established sides in the UAE. Reem Mohammed / The National

Dubai Sports City Eagles might have shipped 12 tries and 85 points on their competitive bow when they went down to the UAE’s longest established club on Friday.

West Asia rugby’s newest entity are prepared for the sort of short-term pain they suffered against Dubai Exiles, though, if it means they move closer to their long-term goal.

“For us, it is not one year – it is a five-year project,” said Josh Ives, the club’s rugby development officer and first XV scrum half. “It is not just about the seniors. We also had our mini and youth season launch, our senior ladies had their first pre-season game, and we want to bring that all together.

“Seniors is a big part of that, but it is not the be all and end all. Our five-year plan is for us to be the best team out here.

“The facilities we have, no team out here has got this. The location, no team has got this.

“It is about this squad building a platform in year one and two, and we all get that legacy.”

There is no reason to doubt their ambitions. Abu Dhabi Saracens achieved similar, in a shorter time frame, and from far humbler beginnings.

Saracens were trounced by Harlequins’ second XV when they debuted in the second tier in 2011. Within four years, they were No 1 in West Asia.

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Despite the one-sided nature of their first outing, there is reason to believe Eagles can get up to speed quickly, too.

They were under no illusions about how big their task would be on opening night against a formidable Exiles. The fact they had some key figures absent hardly helped.

Conor Coakley, the captain, was one of a number of first-choice players who had to miss out through injury sustained in a warm up match ahead of the season.

Coakley, who picked the team’s dapper green playing kit in honour of his home province Connacht, cut a frustrated figure as he ferried water to his new teammates.

When, late on, Ross Bailey went over for the Eagles try – before promptly vomiting on the pitch – it was met with an audible cheer from the stands.

It did not feel like a sympathy vote for a side that had shipped 85 points already. It felt like a club pulling together for their own.

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“We have worked hard behind the scenes on getting the right people in the right positions,” Ives said. “We have had a lot of people who have come to us and wanted to be a part of this, but they weren’t the right fit.

“It was important for us to be a fresh club, building from the bottom. I think that is why it already feels like a club.”

Exiles were remorseless in putting the new side away, but Jacques Benade, the visiting coach, was not unimpressed by the opposition.

“You didn’t know what to expect from these guys,” Benade said. “I thought for the first 20 minutes defensively they were strong and they kept the ball really well.

“But after three or four phases, it is about what you do with the ball. You can’t just keep it nice and tight. I think that is where we had our balance right.”

Dubai Sports City Eagles, in green, hope to build on their experience. Reem Mohammed / The National
Dubai Sports City Eagles, in green, hope to build on their experience. Reem Mohammed / The National

Earlier in the day, Abu Dhabi Harlequins had the first title of the new season wrapped up for them 3,000 kilometres away. They retained the Western Clubs Champions League after Bahrain beat Kandy in Sri Lanka.

The players watched the matched on a live stream online, before heading to Jebel Ali, where they opened their Premiership title defence with a 34-33 win over Dragons.

“Strangely enough, no-one even spoke about [the Champions League title],” said Ben Bolger, the Harlequins captain. “I’ve been playing in the UAE for five years now, and the Dragons game is always one of my favourites. This one didn’t disappoint.”

Dubai Hurricanes beat Saracens 28-13 in the third Premiership match on Friday.