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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

'Massive talent' James Love digging the vibe at Jebel Ali Dragons: 'They are an amazing club'

Circuitous route has seen Love excel for the Arabian Gulf and several English Championship sides before landing in Dubai

James Love says the team ethos at Jebel Ali Dragons 'is actually better than at any club I have ever been at, including professionally.' Reem Mohammed / The National
James Love says the team ethos at Jebel Ali Dragons 'is actually better than at any club I have ever been at, including professionally.' Reem Mohammed / The National

One of the finest products of Middle East rugby has returned to the region after a professional career in the UK, and is now intent on success with Jebel Ali Dragons.

Despite being born and raised beyond rugby’s mainstream, in Bahrain, James Love has excelled in the sport, first as an international XVs and sevens player with the Arabian Gulf.

After attending boarding school and university in the UK, he earned a professional deal to play Championship rugby, the second-tier of the English game.

A five-year stint playing for the likes of London Scottish and Ealing Trailfinders was followed by a move to Hong Kong

Six weeks ago he moved back to Dubai, where he represented the Gulf with distinction at the turn of the decade, and joined the Dragons, at the suggestion of several of his former Gulf teammates.

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“My visa renewal was rejected in Hong Kong, which prompted the decision to move here, and I was very happy to do that because I have a lot of friends here,” Love said.

“I didn’t really have a choice [over joining Dragons]. I think I would have been hung by a noose if I had joined any other team.

“The boys have been great to me, and the club have been very supportive.”

Despite there not being a clear path from Gulf rugby to the pro game, Love said he always believed it could be done when growing up in Bahrain.

“The environment I grew up in was always heavily rugby orientated,” said Love, who signed his first contract in the UK age 22.

“My dad always ran the Bahrain Warblers, an international invitational team who used to come to the [Dubai] Sevens, and travelled the world.

“So I was always surrounded by rugby players, ex-professionals, and I went to boarding school for that reason. My parents knew it was more competitive, and probably better for my education, too.

“It was always my dream growing up, I chased that and, luckily after Hartpury [College], I managed to land a contract. I worked hard to achieve what I did.”

Love, who will turn 30 on Friday, made his competitive debut for Dragons as a substitute in the West Asia Premiership win over Dubai Exiles last weekend.

His introduction had been delayed after a leg injury in the opening practice match of the campaign, against the Dubai Sports City Eagles side Dragons face this weekend.

“It is a long time since I played for Bahrain, and rugby has grown here,” he said.

“Because you can’t get paid players in as there isn’t really the money for that here, you are relying on a good, solid club with loyal members.

“Dragons are at the forefront of that in Dubai. They are an amazing club. The team ethos is actually better than at any club I have ever been at, including professionally.”

Jebel Ali Dragons coach Henry Paul, left, passes on instructions to James Love during a training session. Reem Mohammed / The National
Jebel Ali Dragons coach Henry Paul, left, passes on instructions to James Love during a training session. Reem Mohammed / The National

Henry Paul, the Dragons coach, is happy to have a player of Love’s talents to call on as he manages injury problems in his backline.

Dan Bell is still recuperating after breaking his ankle on UAE international duty at the end of last season, while a leg injury to Nick McCashin in the win over Exiles prompted Love’s introduction.

“James is a massive talent and a consistent goal kicker,” Paul said.

“He is one of those players who always has time on the ball because his game sense is outstanding.

“We are really lucky to have two class fly-halves who can play multiple positions as well.”