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“Gloves are off” for Abu Dhabi Saracens next season, insists head coach Peter Henderson

After a difficult season on and off the field in 2017/18, Sarries are determined to improve next term

Matt Jones 2018/06/15

Abu Dhabi Saracens head coach Peter Henderson claims “the gloves are off” as the club look to bounce back from an abysmal 2017/18 season that saw them win just one game on the field and come close to extinction off it.

Ravages of their star players over recent years were combined with a flurry of changes off the field ahead of and over the course of last season, while the temporary loss of their Al Ghazal home on the eve of the 2017/18 campaign threatened their very existence.

It’s all a far cry from being crowned kings of West Asia in 2015.

They survived, however, stayed together and even though they endured a miserable term full of heavy defeats and humiliation, they are determined to rise from the ashes next season.

A statement of intent is pre-season, which starts for Sarries on June 21. And Henderson expects 2018/19 to be vastly different after a “no nonsense” player meeting earlier this month where aims for the forthcoming campaign were laid out.

“Last season I was thrust into the position of head coach. I didn’t have the time nor the resources that was needed and it showed,” said Henderson, who is kept busy away from the playing and training field by his job as an Etihad pilot.

“This season our players will know that the gloves are off. I know what is required to play and win at this level and last year we missed the mark. That changes this season.

“We’re starting early but for a reason. Our pre-season is 100 per cent targeted at mental strength. The fitness and conditioning, while extremely important, is a by-product.”

It’s been all change for Sarries in the last year.

Sarries fell prey to Dubai Eagles in September 2017, going down 17-11 as the fledgling Eagles – expected to flop – won on just their second senior outing.

They got revenge in January, earning a 14-10 triumph in Abu Dhabi – but it was their sole victory in 12 West Asia Premiership fixtures as they finished rock bottom with just three points and a points difference of -455.

Henderson insists Sarries have already been bolstered by several new arrivals that strengthen the club’s depth and talent.

“As chairman Jakes Basson says ‘We didn’t give up’,” added Henderson.

“Sure, we had many set-backs, almost on a daily basis, but we didn’t give up and we finished. We have set in motion a new club culture and values that we will not compromise on.

“To be honest we have an open door policy both in terms of recruitment and selection. No favourites, not ever. As a player I’ve been at the wrong end of a coach’s inner circle and also been inside it. So I refuse to let that happen.

“We offer the chance for every player to play first grade if that is his goal. And we have a unique ability. Because we are expanding we are attracting players who might feel that a first grade jersey is out of their reach where they are.

“For me it’s cut and dry, you either have what I want in a first grade player or you don’t: unrelenting, absolute determination, commitment and passion to win. No shortcuts.”

Sarries intend to enter teams into the UAE and West Asia Premiership in 2018/19, as well as the UAE Conference Leagues, a change from last term whereby their second grade team (internally known as the ‘OGs’ or ‘Other Guys’) played in the Community League.

“The Club took the decision last year to play the OG’s in the Community League because we knew we had to restructure and rebuild while also providing an avenue for the more social yet competitive players to continue to play,” added Henderson.

It’s only three years since Sarries were champions of West Asia.

“With numbers growing, a revitalised culture and feeling, the committee and coaching staff believe that the OG’s need to play at a higher standard to improve player depth and to minimalise the gap between Premiership and Conference.”

As well as the senior men’s teams, Sarries have a growing ladies team and are also looking to relaunch their junior rugby programme aimed at children of all ages.

Being located so close to such a major expat area (Al Raha Beach, Al Raha Gardens, Al Banar, Al Muneera, Al Zeina, Al Reef, Khalifia City A and B, Shakhbout), the club hopes to offer the enjoyment of being part of a rugby club to everyone.

Sarries will train during the regular season every Monday and Wednesday from 19:00-20:30. Interested players or social members can email membershipadsaracensrugby@gmail.com for more information.

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Abu Dhabi Saracens Peter Henderson