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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

UAE rugby's oldest and newest face off as Sharjah Wanders take on Dubai Tigers in Conference final

Dubai Exiles and Abu Dhabi Harlequins then play in the UAE Premiership final at Dubai Sports City this weekend

Sharjah Wanderers celebrate victory against the Jebel Ali Dragons II in the final of the UAE Conference at the Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club on 25 March, 2016. Navin Khianey for The National
Sharjah Wanderers celebrate victory against the Jebel Ali Dragons II in the final of the UAE Conference at the Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club on 25 March, 2016. Navin Khianey for The National

Sharjah Wanderers will bid to cap their 40th anniversary season with a second UAE Conference title in the space of the past three campaigns, when they face a club 36 years their junior on Friday.

The 2016 winners will meet Dubai Tigers in the finale to the second-tier competition, at the start of the second UAE Rugby Finals Day. Dubai Exiles and Abu Dhabi Harlequins then play in the UAE Premiership final at Dubai Sports City this weekend.

“It would top it off,” Dave Ermerins, Sharjah’s captain, said of the prospect of Wanderers winning a trophy at the end of their 40th season.

“The win three seasons ago was the first time the club had won a trophy in a long time, so to win it twice within three years would be pretty special.

“We can’t wait. We have a big support because the team is so close, and already everyone is talking about coming down to support. That’ll be huge for us.”

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Sharjah Wanderers at 40:

Former mascot Hamish Mackenzie rolls back the years at memorial match

Ex-players jetting for Friday's festivities in for a 'very pleasant surprise'

Wanderers building solid foundations rather than risk biting off more than they can chew

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Despite the significant age-gap, Wanderers and Tigers share a similar ethos, according to Shane Thornton. The New Zealander, who set up Tigers in 2014 and is now the club’s manager, termed them both “country” teams, competing with “city-slickers”.

By which, he means they are tight-knit, one-team clubs, drawn from small player pools, competing with clubs like Dubai Exiles, Dubai Hurricanes, and Abu Dhabi Harlequins, each of whom have a vast membership base.

Despite their relatively small player pool, Tigers have 350 junior members. And their senior team contains a variety of players who have featured at the very top level of Arabian Gulf rugby.

Back-rower Jamie Clarke once captained UAE, while Peter Kelly, who will likely start in the centre against Sharjah, was a serial winner with Jebel Ali Dragons before switching to Tigers.

“It is pretty huge for our club [to be in the final], being one of the youngest clubs here,” Thornton said.

“There have been other clubs coming on board, but we are still one of the youngest. To have one of our teams in the final is good, having taken four or five years to get up there.

“You have to have players coming through to keep up there with the top clubs like Exiles and Dragons. They have heaps of players at their clubs, and we are starting to battle with them now, which is great.”

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Undiscovered country for Shane Thornton in UAE rugby

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Sharjah’s continued excellence at the top of the Conference frequently prompts queries as to whether they should accept elevation to the Premiership.

They remain cautious over the idea, however, no matter the result of Friday’s final. Despite their success in the Conference, Wanderers still maintain just one side, and have no plans of extending that next season.

“The big thing about our team is everyone is very close,” Ermerins said.

“It is a smaller club in terms of numbers, and with only having one team. Even though we are a Sharjah club, most of our players are based in Dubai. We currently only train once a week, and even that can be a struggle.

“For us boys who are based in Sharjah, it is fine, but because of the way traffic is, and people have to be committed to their jobs first, it is difficult.

“A lot of us might like to play up, but it is difficult with the financial aspect.”

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UAE Conference – final standings

1 Dubai Tigers

2 Sharjah Wanderers

3 Dubai Exiles II

4 Abu Dhabi Harlequins II

5 Dubai Hurricanes II

6 Jebel Ali Dragons II

7 Al Ain Amblers

8 Dubai Sharks

9 Arabian Knights

UAE finals day

Friday, April 13
Rugby Park, Dubai Sports City

3pm, UAE Conference: Dubai Tigers v Sharjah Wanderers
6.30pm, UAE Premiership: Dubai Exiles v Abu Dhabi Harlequins

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