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Abu Dhabi Harlequins crush Kandy as pre-season fears are wiped away

Two seasons ago, Quins were the undisputed kings of UAE and indeed Gulf rugby

Matt Jones 2018/09/08

Mike McFarlane tempered expectations for the upcoming UAE rugby season after Abu Dhabi Harlequins crushed visiting Kandy 57-7 on Friday.

Ahead of their Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League encounter with the exciting Sri Lankans, McFarlane had urged his players to rise to the challenges ahead in 2018/19 as Quins look to counter the rise of Jebel Ali Dragons, Dubai Exiles and Bahrain.

Two seasons ago, Quins were the undisputed kings of UAE and indeed Gulf rugby as a whole – winning the five major trophies on offer in 2016/17.

They claimed back to back Champions League titles last summer before adding the inaugural UAE Premiership Cup, but were dethroned in the major tournaments.

Dragons won the West Asia Premiership – the region’s main club honour – while Exiles won the Dubai Sevens and beat them in the season-ending UAE Premiership final. Bahrain took the West Asia Cup off them.

And ahead of the new campaign, Quins have been shorn of a host of star names, leaving many to wonder just what lies in store for them in 2018/19.

McFarlane asked his side to step up to the challenge and he was delighted by his team’s response as Quins set up a showdown with Bahrain next week for the Champions League title.

“It’s a great way to kick off the season in what was our first contact run out,” said McFarlane of the Kandy triumph.

“The players showed excellent core skills in testing conditions and executed the game plan carefully. The attitude and application was brilliant and that’s all I’ll ever ask of the boys.”

Mike McFarlane (r) celebrates with brothers Sam and Ben Bolger (l) after winning the UAE Premiership, their fifth and final trophy of 2016/17.

But he will certainly not be getting carried away by the margin of victory or performance. Quins will be looking to make it three straight Champions League titles – but will have to do so in Bahrain, who have been formidable, especially at home, under coach Louie Tonkin.

“We know we have a challenging year ahead and certainly won’t get ahead of ourselves with this result as we know we have a lot of work and building to do,” added McFarlane.

“It’s an exciting start but next week will be a huge step up against a very good and well coached Bahrain side. I’m looking forward to Monday now and seeing the players compete for a place on the plane.”

Key figures Patrick Jenkinson, Willie Umu and Brian Geraghty left the UAE last summer while Quins lost Ben Bolger to enforced retirement due to repeated concussions.

This summer has seen long-time club captain Phil Abraham hang up his boots as well as UAE stalwart Phil Brady.

Pieter Kilian, Alfred Ries, Tom Brown, Gerrit Visser, Jona Marshall and Joe Teasdale are also among the departures – leaving Quins fighting an uphill battle. But for now they can be content with a spirited start to the new campaign.

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Abu Dhabi Harlequins Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League Kandy Mike McFarlane