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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Squad depth a concern as Dubai Exiles prepare to defend Dubai Rugby Sevens title

Defending champions will be pitted in a group with Dubai Hurricanes, Dubai Sports City Eagles and Bahrain in the opening round of the Gulf Men’s League tournament

Dubai Exiles, in black, in action against Jebeli Ali Dragons in the Dubai Rugby Sevens Gulf Mens League Final last year. Satish Kumar for The National 
Dubai Exiles, in black, in action against Jebeli Ali Dragons in the Dubai Rugby Sevens Gulf Mens League Final last year. Satish Kumar for The National 

Jacques Benade, the Dubai Exiles coach, says he has barely paid the defence of their Dubai Rugby Sevens title a thought as yet, given the expanded XVs schedule this season.

The draw was confirmed this week for the showpiece weekend to the domestic season, with the Sevens now just three weeks away.

The Exiles will be pitted in a group with Dubai Hurricanes, who they face in XVs in the West Asia Premiership on Friday, Dubai Sports City Eagles and Bahrain in the opening round of the Gulf Men’s League tournament.

In the other group, Abu Dhabi Harlequins, who were deposed as Sevens champions for the first time in four years last December, will play Jebel Ali Dragons, last year’s runners up, Al Ain Amblers and Abu Dhabi Saracens.

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Read more:

Bahrain deliver on 'potential' as Harlequins win puts them top of West Asian Premiership

Abu Dhabi Harlequins power to victory over Dubai Hurricanes - in pictures

Mike Phillips has winning start with Jebel Ali Dragons against Dubai Exiles - in pictures

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Not so long ago, the XVs season broke at this point for three weeks of sevens rugby in the lead up to the main event, giving sides time to focus on the abridged format.

However, there are still two rounds of West Asia Premiership matches to fit in before the sides can alter their perspective.

Exiles were surprise winners of the Sevens in 2017, not least to themselves, and Benade says they will be adopting a similar attitude this time around.

“It is very hard at the moment to even think about the Sevens, but we are still very proud to be the reigning champions,” Benade said.

“It was a big turning point in our excellent season last year. Due to that, we had a great second half to the season, qualified for all the finals available in club rugby in the UAE, and won two of them.

“We will do the same as last year and go out and enjoy every game we play in. It’s such an unbelievable tournament, and great for the boys to be part of such a massive event.”

Benade thinks his side’s chances will be largely dependent on player availability, given the bruising start to the campaign in which they have lost three of their opening six matches.

“It has been a very difficult start to the season but we are happy to be the top three in the league at the moment,” Benade said. “It’s not an excuse, but we are so unlucky at the moment with injuries.

"I’ve been very happy with the boys who needed to step up every week and push themselves to play a very competitive and tough fixture schedule.”

That view was echoed by Mike McFarlane, the Harlequins coach. He says his side’s chances of regaining the sevens crown might also be hindered by the fact the wedding of one of the club’s members is also taking place on the Sevens weekend.

“We are so short at the moment we can’t [alter their planning to focus on the Sevens],” McFarlane said. “We haven’t got a choice to rest lads, and for the sevens we are just going to have to see how it goes and enjoy it, because there is no prep time to get any real structured, quality training in.

“There is only so much you can do when the calendar is so crammed. I’d like to think we’ll be able to put a decent squad together.”