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Rivals Jacques Benade and Mike McFarlane would welcome working together again for UAE

They may have dominated UAE rugby as huge rivals in recent years, but Mike McFarlane and Jacques Benade worked together for the UAE under Apollo Perelini

Matt Jones 2018/05/06

They’ve spent the last three years pitting their wits against each other on the sidelines as their teams have dominated Gulf rugby – but Jacques Benade and Mike McFarlane insist they’d relish the chance to work alongside each other again for the benefit of the UAE.

Dubai Exiles coach Benade and Abu Dhabi Harlequins counterpart McFarlane were invited to be Apollo Perelini’s assistants for the UAE’s recent friendly encounter against visiting Gibraltar last month.

Perelini’s stacked squad laboured to a 28-15 win in Dubai on April 27 in what is scheduled to be their only meaningful fixture of 2018 – with the UAE Rugby Federation having taken the decision to withdraw the national team from competing in the Asia Rugby Championship (ARC).

The national team had been given a reprieve after finishing bottom of Division I a year ago, with Asia Rugby deciding against relegating them.

That had whetted the appetite among last year’s squad and a burgeoning group of recently-qualified players ahead of a fresh assault on the continental competition, but secrecy surrounds the reasons for the federation’s decision.

Nevertheless, bringing their expertise to the national set-up was an opportunity welcomed by both Benade and McFarlane, with both admitting they’d jump at the chance to do so again in the future, and possibly on the big stage in a year’s time, should the UAE return to the ARC.

“It was a great experience and I really enjoyed being part of the coaching set up against Gibraltar and I’m very thankful to Apollo for giving me the chance,” said South African Benade, who led Exiles to a Dubai Sevens and UAE Premiership double this season.

“It will be great to work with the top players in the UAE again if we hopefully return very quickly back to the Asia competition.”

Apollo Perelini deployed Benade and McFarlane as his assistants against Gibraltar.

McFarlane, who led Quins to the quintuple a year ago and won the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League and UAE Premiership Cup this season, agreed.

“It’s certainly something I’ve enjoyed this time around and having more contact time with the players in a build-up to a larger end goal would be fantastic as I know it’s something that both players and coaches would love to be a part of,” said the Englishman.

And despite the abrupt lack of top level competition this year, both coaches feel it’s an exciting time to be part of international rugby in the UAE.

“It was a brilliant opportunity and great to work with different players with different ideas and experiences. I think the UAE squad is in a positive place and hopefully at the start of an exciting journey,” said McFarlane.

“The talent in the region across the clubs is outstanding and it’s an exciting prospect getting these boys together. When you look at the performance the Barbarians put in and that some of those qualify soon too then it’s a very exciting time to be part of UAE rugby.”

Benade weighed in: “There are really top quality players to pick from and to be able to work with Apollo with these players will be great.

“There will also be five or six extra players available next year. It will be great for UAE rugby to have competition in places and to make it very difficult for Apollo to pick the squad.

“The level of the game is picking up every year and with that we see in the younger players returning back to their adopted country and wanting to play in the West Asia and UAE Premiership competition and to qualify to play for UAE.

“It’s a shame that we couldn’t get a few extra sessions in before the game but there were times against Gibraltar that you could see what these players are capable of doing and will happen if they can train and play together as a squad.

“With extra training camps maybe throughout the season and focusing on what the UAE want to achieve, especially now with rugby part as the PE curriculum in Emirati schools I do think there is a bright future for rugby in the UAE and to be able to be involved with that will be great.”

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Abu Dhabi Harlequins Apollo Perelini Dubai Exiles Jacques Benade Mike McFarlane UAE Rugby Federation