Hot seat at No 10 is up for grabs

Bruce Birtwistle, the head coach of the Arabian Gulf, is unlikely to be much closer to answering the first major conundrum of his reign.

DUBAI // Bruce Birtwistle, the head coach of the Arabian Gulf, is unlikely to be much closer to answering the first major conundrum of his reign following this weekend's Gulf league matches: namely, who will he play in the pivotal position of fly-half for the regional side in this summer's Asian Five Nations campaign? The New Zealander oversaw the Gulf's promotion back into Asian rugby's premier competition, during his first assignment since taking over the coaching post last summer.

Luke Sinclair, a convert from rugby league, orchestrated that Division One success from No 10, but the injured Australian playmaker is certain to miss this summer's campaign. The Queenslander suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament while on duty for the Exiles at the Dubai Rugby Sevens last month, and will undergo surgery in the coming days. While Birtwistle has an array of fine options in the midfield, the cupboard of fly-halves who are eligible under the three-year residency qualification, is bare.

The leading No10s in club rugby, such as Andy Russell, the Dubai Dragon, Bahrain's Dan Bell, and Murray Strang, of Abu Dhabi Harlequins, are all relative newcomers to the region. Paul Beard, the Abu Dhabi-born Dubai Exiles player, did the job for some of the Gulf's inaugural Five Nations campaign two summers ago. Yet he missed his chance to forward his case in front of Birtwistle after suffering an off-day with the boot against Dubai Hurricanes on Friday.

The resurgent Hurricanes stole a first win in three meetings with the Exiles via a late intercept try from Josh Sherrin. Abu Dhabi Harlequins kept the heat on Bahrain at the top of the Prosperity Premiership. They beat Doha 18-10, while the Bahrainis were enjoying a comfortable 50-0 home win over the Kuwait Nomads. pradley@thenational.ae

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