Jebel Ali Dragons face tough test to defend UAE Premiership title

Reigning champions deftly handling consistent changes at the top
Nick Taylor, with ball, of Jebel Ali Dragons in action during the match against Dubai Hurricanes at the Sevens rugby ground in Dubai on January 31, 2014. Pawan Singh / The National
Nick Taylor, with ball, of Jebel Ali Dragons in action during the match against Dubai Hurricanes at the Sevens rugby ground in Dubai on January 31, 2014. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // If there is a secret behind their recent overwhelming dominance of West Asian rugby, then Jebel Ali Dragons are going to great lengths to hide it.

Two seasons ago, they won three major trophies. Then their captain, Paul Hart, and coach, Shane Thornton, ceded their powers.

They repeated the feat last season. And now the triumphal captain-coach combination of Taif Al Delamie and Ross Mills are no longer in office.

Nick Taylor, newly appointed as Dragons captain this summer, and the group of player-coaches who have replaced Mills, might wonder what the best plan of attack is now. Trophy-winning seems to be a dangerous proposition at the Centre of Excellence.

“It is a tough gig for me, but for everyone as well, following what has been done the past two years,” said Taylor, the Dragons No 8 who is a PE teacher at Deira International School.

“But you can only be motivated by going one better. I don’t think we actually did that well in the Top Six.

“We lost three or four games and were touch and go for that [West Asia] final. That is an area we can improve massively. I think there is a lot to improve on from last year, and with the squad we have we should do well.”

Taylor, who played in the third tier of English domestic rugby before moving to the UAE to teach, was one of the outstanding players in the treble win last season, his debut campaign with the club.

He was enlisted as captain in the off-season, and he is happy he will have the team’s coaches, Sean Crombie and Murray Strang, on the field with him.

“With Murray and Sean, we have two player-coaches who are big voices as well,” Taylor said.

“Having those two around, my role is quite easy. I get on really well with the boys and I was really flattered to be asked to do it.”

The champions face Xodus Wasps, who lost all their Premiership matches last season, in tonight’s season opener at The Sevens, Dubai.

Martin Southern, the Wasps director of rugby, is sanguine about his side’s chances.

“This will be a good benchmark for us, playing against the Dragons,” Southern said. “You might as well test yourself against the best. We are looking for the forwards to deliver set piece ball to give our backs the opportunity to play and to add some grit and edge to our defence.”

pradley@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: September 26, 2014 04:00 AM

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