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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Oasis in sight for Abu Dhabi Saracens rugby club after enduring difficult walk through desert

After going through an uncertain period last year that saw them lose their home ground, coach, chairman and key players, the UAE rugby side have bounced back. They also have a roadmap to continue their progress

Abu Dhabi Saracens, in red, are back up again after stumbling in the recent past. Ravindranath K / The National
Abu Dhabi Saracens, in red, are back up again after stumbling in the recent past. Ravindranath K / The National

After months battling the sort of problems that might have pushed the club out of existence, Abu Dhabi Saracens are looking to the future with renewed optimism, having returned to their home ground at Al Ghazal.

The capital’s youngest rugby club endured a torrid time since the end of last season.

Leading players departed for new challenges elsewhere. Coach Winston Cowie was forced to step down on the eve of the new season because of personal commitments, the same reason that also led chairman Jay Danielson to leave later in the year.

All the while, the remaining players were trying to compete in the top level of domestic competition without the use of a home ground.

Saracens were rendered homeless last summer by a change of management at Al Ghazal Golf Club, which acts as the club house when they play on the adjacent rugby field.

However, the club were able to move back in to their former home just before Gulf rugby took a break for Christmas. It was the first step on the road to recovery, according to new chairman Jacob Basson.

Abu Dhabi coach Winston Cowie had to resign for personal reasons. Antonie Robertson / The National
Abu Dhabi coach Winston Cowie had to resign for personal reasons. Antonie Robertson / The National

Basson, who was elected to the position after offering his services when his son started playing at the club, is hopeful the 2015 West Asia champions have started on their journey to challenge the regional game’s elite again.

“We are starting to rebuild our club, based on the five pillars we believe in: discipline, respect, family, teamwork, and enjoyment,” Basson said.

“That is what we stand for. I just want to guys to enjoy themselves. We have managed to secure Al Ghazal as our home club again. The guys are happy knowing they can move forward, and try to win games.

“That is the difficult bit, but we will get there. We have lost a lot of players to other clubs, and you could not blame them for looking at other opportunities for rugby after Al Ghazal closed.

“Now my aim is to get this club back to being one of the elite clubs in the UAE, and I think we can do that.”

Saracens are winless so far this season, and face the daunting prospect of a trip to Dubai Exiles when the West Asia Premiership resumes this weekend.

Exiles won the season’s second major trophy in December, when they shocked their rivals to claim the Dubai Rugby Sevens title for the first time in 11 years.

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The UAE’s oldest club have a number of players in their ranks who were leading figures when Saracens won the Premiership three seasons ago.

Despite the immediate challenges ahead, Saracens captain Jonny Taylor said the return to their home ground has already had the effect of raising morale of the players.

“We have set little milestones for ourselves in terms of rebuilding, and [Basson] had put in a lot of effort in,” Taylor said.

“One of the milestones was to get a home ground again, because it is tough creating cohesion when you don’t have somewhere of your own to go to after a game, and have to share fields with other people at training.

“We have set battles we want to win to move forward, and that was the biggest one that we have hit so far, so we are all very, very happy.”