Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ McFarlane dismissing ‘disrespectful’ overlooking of Kandy

Mike McFarlane, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins coach, believes the Sri Lankan visitors will pose a considerable challenge on Tuesday night in the West Asia Champions League.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in white, in action against Dubai Exiles on Friday night. Antonie Robertson / The National / September 2, 2016
Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in white, in action against Dubai Exiles on Friday night. Antonie Robertson / The National / September 2, 2016

ABU DHABI // Mike McFarlane says his Abu Dhabi Harlequins side will have to be at their best to beat Kandy on Tuesday night, after being irked at the way the tourists have been underestimated ahead of the West Asia Champions League.

The Sri Lankan champions are the only non-UAE side in a tournament purportedly created to decide the leading team in West Asia.

Some suggested the tournament winners would be decided by the opening game between Harlequins and Dubai Exiles.

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After that ended in a 23-23 draw on Friday in Dubai, the implication was that the UAE sides would be competing to put the most points on Kandy to win the trophy.

However, that grossly undervalues the merit of the travelling side, according to McFarlane, the Harlequins coach.

Sri Lanka’s national team are ranked No 40 in the world, 33 places above the UAE, and they are supported by a popular club game.

The Abu Dhabi side have first-hand experience of Kandy’s rugby pedigree, too. On a pre-season tour to the Sri Lankan highlands last season, they were hosted by Tuesday’s opponents.

“When we were over there it was a fantastic experience, from playing in another country to the crowd they were able to draw in,” McFarlane said.

“It was just brilliant. They have a cracking stadium over there in Kandy, and they managed to fill it.

“They had posters up around town, and we had to be police escorted in. They are fanatical, and it was an absolutely great atmosphere.

“I think it’s disrespectful that the media and some of the boys from other clubs think it is going to come down to who can beat them by the most points.”

Even though the big rugby match is by far the secondary sporting event in the capital for Tuesday evening, as it clashes with UAE’s football World Cup qualifier against Australia, McFarlane is hopeful there will still be a sizable turnout.

The match they had in Kandy last summer drew an attendance that far exceeded anything like those that usually watch UAE Premiership matches, despite it being a low-key friendly.

And in the decisive match in the Champions League 12 months ago – a defeat to Doha – Kandy had many followers at The Sevens, Dubai.

McFarlane is optimistic about his side’s chances, after being cheered by their showing against Exiles at the weekend.

Harlequins overcame a deficit before holding the lead with 10 minutes to go, until the last play of the game​ when Exiles levelled with a penalty in front of the posts.

“There has not been much time to introduce any new things, but we want to cement some of the things we did on Friday,” the coach said.

“We have retained a lot of players. They bought into the structures we had last year, and we are looking to build on that rather than start again.

“The set piece went well, and overall we are happy with the performance. If you looked at the faces at full time, it told a story – one of relief and the other being gutted.”

pradley@thenational.ae

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Published: September 5, 2016 04:00 AM

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