Hard to look past the ‘Henry Paul factor’ as new coach breathes new life into Jebel Ali Dragons

Arrival of former dual-code international has bloated both enthusiasm and playing numbers at the centre of excellence, reports Paul Radley.
Henry Paul's appointment as Jebel Ali Dragons coach has swelled numbers of players turning up at training at Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Henry Paul's appointment as Jebel Ali Dragons coach has swelled numbers of players turning up at training at Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // Jebel Ali Dragons made one of the most eye-catching recruits in the history of Arabian Gulf rugby when they appointed Henry Paul as their new coach this summer.

Whether or not the arrival of the former England player brings success remains to be seen. The season starts on September 23, and the 2014 treble-winners have work to do to haul in last season’s leading lights, Dubai Exiles and Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

See more on UAE rugby:

New coach Henry Paul wants Jebel Ali Dragons to go on the attack next UAE rugby season

Henry Paul appointment ‘a huge step in the positive direction’ for Jebel Ali Dragons

First blood will have to wait between Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Dubai Exiles

The early signs are undeniable, though: the Henry Paul effect has bloated both enthusiasm and playing numbers at the Centre of Excellence.

The 53 players who attended training on Monday night were testament to that. Even when they were subjected to a gruelling intermittent running test, similar to the bleep test, in insufferable weather, it had the effect of binding rather than breaking them.

James Elliot-Square, the winger who was the last man standing in the test, was roared through the final stretch by clubmates who had barely been fit to breathe let alone speak moments earlier.

For those who have suffered through two seasons of toil, this must feel like the shoots of regeneration. Some of the star players of the Dragons glory years such as Sean Crombie, Murray Strang and Adam Telford, may be gone, but the spirit looks to be back.

“You can’t look too far past the Henry Paul factor, but Paul Hart [Dragons’ director of rugby] has done an unbelievable job in really instilling it,” said Jonny Macdonald, the new Dragons backs coach.

“It is one thing having a coach who everyone looks up to, but it is another to get that feeling back into the club. I don’t think you can quantify that.

“The numbers are increased, and the work that has gone on behind the scenes means they are staying, not just coming then leaving. So we have 55 people turning up each week, hungry for a game.”

Paul has some impressive coaching assistants. Macdonald and Jamie Clarke, both former international representatives here who formerly played together at Abu Dhabi Harlequins, each joined Dragons in the summer.

Andy Buist, a former professional with Newcastle Falcons in the English Premiership, is also dovetailing coaching the forwards with playing in the second row.

Macdonald was forced to retire from playing age just 25 two years ago due to the effects of concussion.

He said the chance to learn coaching skills from a former dual-code international was an opportunity not to be missed.

“From a personal standpoint, it means I get to learn how to be a better coach and I have already picked things up off him,” said the Abu Dhabi-born former Arabian Gulf scrum-half.

“Him being here is a major factor, but the vibe around the club is very good. Recruitment has gone really well and hopefully that will translate onto the field.

“Seeing the number and quality of players there makes me want to play again, 100 per cent. I can’t play contact, XVs rugby, but I am just enjoying the coaching.”

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Published: September 7, 2016 04:00 AM

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