Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Dubai Exiles ‘happy’ to play overseas to expand Western Clubs Champions League

The week-long tournament reaches its finale Friday evening, when Dubai Exiles have to beat Kandy, the Sri Lankan champions, by 40 points or more to beat Abu Dhabi Harlequins to the title.
Willy Umu of the Abu Dhabi Harlequins offloads against Kandy during their West Asia Champions League match at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi last night. The Harlequins won 56-17. Delores Johnson / The National
Willy Umu of the Abu Dhabi Harlequins offloads against Kandy during their West Asia Champions League match at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi last night. The Harlequins won 56-17. Delores Johnson / The National

DUBAI // The UAE teams involved in the Western Clubs Champions League say they would consider travelling overseas for away fixtures in an expanded competition in the future.

The week-long tournament reaches its finale Friday evening, when Dubai Exiles have to beat Kandy, the Sri Lankan champions, by 40 points or more to beat Abu Dhabi Harlequins to the title.

Before it started, the two home clubs were lukewarm about the idea of playing in a tournament that purportedly decides the best side in West Asia.

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Exiles suggested they regarded it as a warm-up for the main competition, the West Asia Premiership that starts on September 23. Harlequins, too, said the event was more preparatory than a title they were craving.

Each have intimated they would be keen to play again in a larger event involving flights abroad in future.

However, Mike Wolff, the Exiles chairman, said much needs to be done, particularly in relation to the timing of the event and financing it, before it can become a realistic consideration.

“It is lovely to have the idea of lots of rugby, and we are happy to get behind the concept, but we are not bottomless pits of money,” Wolff said.

“It is unrealistic to expect there to be significant overseas travel, when there is also travel to Doha and Bahrain within the West Asia competition.

“Every time we travel, it costs Dh25,000 to get a squad there using budget airlines.

“There is also a timings issue, where it is devalued having it as a warm-up tournament before the season starts.”

Harlequins coach Mike McFarlane, who took his side to Sri Lanka for a pre-season friendly 12 months ago, said he would have been happy to do so again in competition this time round.

“If we are going to grow the awareness of it through each of the countries and get people involved, we need to be able to travel,” McFarlane said.

“Unfortunately, this has come at a time for us when we now can’t have a pre-season tour.

“We offered to play our game away in Kandy.

“We would have paid for everything, like we did last year, but they were insistent they wanted to travel.”

Ghaith Jalajel, the rugby development consultant for Asia Rugby, West, said the governing body for the sport on the continent are working to make the Champions League a tournament of greater prestige.

It had been the intention to play home and away fixtures this season, but more teething problems for a tournament in just its second season scuppered the plan.

Last season a fixture involving Kandy, at Abu Dhabi Saracens, was cancelled as the host club did not provide ambulance services at pitch side.

This time around, the tournament has shrunk to three teams after Kazakhstan’s champions opted out because of administrative issues.

Jalajel says the vision is to create a competition that decides the best side in all of Asia – outside of Japan – via a play-off with the winners of a similar competition in the Far East.

“The plan is it will be home and away, eventually, where teams get the chance to host and travel,” Jalajel said.

“We want it to grow.

“There is big interest in the East, so the likes of Hong Kong will be playing a similar tournament now.

“Hopefully it will develop like the Heineken Cup [in Europe], and the winner of the Eastern Clubs competition will play the winner from the West to decide the champion club in Asia.”

Western Clubs Champions League

Table

Team P W D L PD Pt

1 AD Quins 2 1 1 0 39 7 2 D Exiles 1 0 1 0 0 2

3 Kandy 1 0 0 1 -39 0

Results

Dubai Exiles 23-23 Abu Dhabi Harlequins 23

Abu Dhabi Harlequins 56-17 Kandy

Fixture

Dubai Exiles v Kandy, 7pm, The Sevens, Dubai

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Published: September 8, 2016 04:00 AM

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