Dylan Hartley makes a splash as Dubai Sharks prepare to bare their teeth

Former England captain creates strong first impression after joining up with his new club in UAE

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Rush hour on Hessa Street can be an unappealing prospect. For the players of Dubai Sharks rugby club, though, there is now an extra incentive to push on through.

Make it to training early at Dubai Sports City, and you might just get specialist tuition from a grand slam-winning captain.

On Tuesday night, the first arrivals received a clinic on how to run a decoy line and hit up a crash ball. All very rudimentary, of course. But it means a little more when the advice is coming from Dylan Hartley.

The 97-times capped former England hooker arrived in Dubai just under three weeks ago, to take up a job with Access Hire Middle East. He is dovetailing that with being director of rugby at the Sharks.

When they recruited him earlier this summer, the club were sure he would be ideal for pressing the flesh with sponsors, a figurehead for recruitment, and if he wanted to be hands-off in terms of actual coaching, so be it.

Not a bit of it. On Tuesday night, for example, he arrived an hour early to plan with the club’s coaches, which also includes former Wales and South Africa sevens internationals.

Then, for the duration of the training session with scores of male and female players that followed, he was front and centre.

“He has made a really strong first impression,” said Matthew Pewtner, the former Wales sevens international who is the Sharks’ head coach.

“It is great to be able to work with someone who is really fresh out of the professional game, having been at the highest level for a long time.

“He brings a different insight, different to what these lads are used to, but different in a really positive way. All the wisdom he brings is just invaluable. His experience speaks for itself.”

Dubai Sharks head coach Matthew Pewtner during training. Victor Besa / The National

It is a world away from what it once was like for a club who still live by the motto “serious rugby, seriously social”.

Just over two years ago, the Sharks’ entire membership – including social members who were by now based overseas – amounted to 47.

Now, there are nearly 600 playing members across men’s, women’s, mini and youth, and their netball team.

It is ever expanding, too, thanks to the lure of the location at Sports City, not to mention the small matter of a star director of rugby.

Given that the memories of the bad old days remain fresh for club president Mike Quinn and chairman Charlie Taylor, they are wary of trying to run before they are fully back on their feet again.

The club play in the second-tier of domestic rugby, and they are fully aware the influx of an enviable coaching team guarantees nothing.

They hope to contend for the UAE Division 1 title this season, but even if they did claim that title, they would – for now, at least – be wary of accepting promotion to the Premiership.

“We are realistic about it, but it is an exciting challenge,” said Josh Ives, the former UAE international who is the Sharks forwards coach.

“We all know the history of the club. It was in some tough times. Mike Quinn is a stubborn bloke, and I think that is what kept them going.

“To be part of that history now is special, and to have Dylan on board is brilliant. There are not too many people who are better to learn from than him.

“He landed on a Monday, was at training on the Tuesday, and was growling at the boys straight away. He is already in and invested in the club.”

The club’s ambitions extend beyond the men’s game, too, with Christelene Steinhobel, a former World Sevens Series regular with South Africa, now overseeing the Sharks women’s team.

“I think it is incredible to have someone of his calibre here,” Steinhobel said of working alongside Hartley.

“For him to be so interested in our club is insane. For me as a coach, I am super excited to learn and grow.

“It would be the first time I’m coaching a senior women’s team and taking them into tournaments. I have coached kids in academies back in South Africa, but this is a whole different ball game.

“You have to keep development and fun, as well as try to find an edge of competition and growth. For him to come into this, I am so keen to learn.

“He is carrying knowledge from Eddie Jones as well. The vibe that he brings that you can be serious but enjoy it as well will be invaluable to us.”

Updated: September 01, 2022, 5:24 AM