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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

West Asia Premiership rugby: A team-by-team guide as Abu Dhabi Harlequins set out to defend five trophies

Paul Radley breaks down the chances of each team competing in this year's competition

Ben Bolger, front and centre, and his Abu Dhabi Harlequins teammates celebrate after beating Jebel Ali Dragons to win the UAE Premiership. Victor Besa for The National
Ben Bolger, front and centre, and his Abu Dhabi Harlequins teammates celebrate after beating Jebel Ali Dragons to win the UAE Premiership. Victor Besa for The National

West Asia Premiership 2017/18

Abu Dhabi Harlequins

Last season: Champions

Coach: Mike McFarlane

Home ground: Zayed Sports City

Keen to talk down their chances of repeating last season’s total domination, after losing 10 key members of the team that took them to five titles. Still, they are likely to be contenders. They could win the first trophy of the new campaign in absentia on Friday. Kandy need a good win over Bahrain to deprive Quins the Western Clubs Champions League crown.

Abu Dhabi Saracens

Last season: Last

Coach: To be appointed

Home ground: To be decided

Somehow, Saracens have managed to stay sanguine about their chances this season, even though almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong in the summer. At short notice they lost their home ground at Al Ghazal, as well as their coach, Winston Cowie. Despite their optimism, a season of toil awaits.

Bahrain

Last season: Third

Coach: Louie Tonkin

Home ground: Saar

While the rest of Gulf rugby was seemingly in financial or political meltdown this summer, Bahrain continued merrily announcing a variety of impressive appointments. It suggests a club in rude health. On the pitch, they boast a rich array of talent. But winning a competition that requires overseas travel every second week is an exacting task.

Dubai Sports City Eagles

Last season: Eagles were formed this summer

Coach: Pat Benson

Home ground: Dubai Sports City

Gulf rugby’s arrivistes divide opinion. The UAE Rugby Federation see their strategic plan – a club that owns its home ground, with appreciable financial backing – as the ideal for the future of the game. Established clubs wonder why they got special dispensation to play Premiership rugby. The players themselves just want to compete.

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Dubai Exiles

Last season: Fifth

Coach: Jacques Benade

Home ground: The Sevens, Dubai

Backing up their double win of two seasons ago proved beyond Dubai’s oldest club last season. They have made some notable additions in the off-season, though, including their spine of the grizzly pack which took Saracens to a shock title three seasons back. Playing against Exiles this term will be no tickling contest.

Dubai Hurricanes

Last season: Sixth

Coach: Mike Wernham

Home ground: The Sevens, Dubai

The fact Hurricanes have been also-rans in the top division in recent seasons hardly befits one of the most smartly run clubs in the region. Wernham is cautious about his side’s chances of challenging for top honours this time around, but they could well surprise, especially with some notable recruits on their way.

Jebel Ali Dragons

Last season: Fourth

Coach: Henry Paul

Home ground: Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence

Managed to steer clear of the problems of other clubs after signing a substantial, long-term deal with their main sponsors, Hesco, this summer. Not far off the pace in Henry Paul’s first season in charge last time out, they are likely to push for top honours in his second – and the club’s 25th.