DUBAI // When the Dubai Dragons squad board the plane bound for Kuwait this morning, they will find it is like stepping into a time-warp. Not long ago all players in the Middle East had to make do with playing matches on sand levelled by tractors, with oil demarcating the pitch. Dubai's finest have long grown used to the high-spec facilities on offer at the region's new head quarters, The Sevens, which is still less than a year old.
Not everyone is so lucky, howe-ver. Kuwait Nomads, who provide the opposition for the Dragons tonight, remain the only side in the region to play their home games on sand. It should level the playing field considerably between the tourists from the UAE, a thriving club who are eyeing success in all Gulf competitions this year, and their hosts, who often struggled for numbers last term. Happily for the travelling side, they can draw on the considerable experience of their new coach, Geoff Frost. The Welshman has lived in the region for 26 years, and well recalls what rugby was like in his early years.
"It was like playing on a car park," he says of his initial foray in Oman, after moving from the muddy fields of South Wales to the sand of Muscat. "It was hard going but the quality of players was just excellent." Frost originally relocated for his job as an electrical mechanical engineer, and, having played second team rugby for Cardiff, was not sure what to expect on arrival. "The best standard I played was out here," he recalls. "When I first came out I thought, 'I'll walk into this team'. I didn't realise the standard was so high, with New Zealand provincial players and the like.
"At that time they [Muscat] were probably the strongest side in the Gulf. It was good second division, possibly first division, standard back in the UK." Frost has returned to the game after a stint away when his daughter Kelly put him in touch with the Dragons, having met some of the players at a boot camp. Despite not having a coach, the Dragons were universally regarded as the best team to watch in the Gulf last season.
Frost realises he has plenty of talent at his disposal. He revealed the methods he employed to harness that through pre-season have not always been the friendliest. "We have had over 40 players to every session," says Frost, who also played for and coached Abu Dhabi and the Dubai Exiles. "I'm not making it easy for them, and they are loving it. They don't mind taking the pain. "There is a lot of talent in this side, but the big thing is they are a good bunch of mates. Last season they didn't have someone on the line saying, 'This is where you are going wrong'. The talent was there, it just needed coordinating from the side.
"I'm big on contact. Every session I do is full contact. At first they just wanted to play touch rugby, but they have got better and tougher. If I keep them fit, and they can maintain that in the second half of games, we should blow everybody away." @Email:email@example.com