Henry Paul has left Jebel Ali Dragons after taking up a role coaching Canada.
The former England international flew to Toronto at the end of last week, where a Canada select XV faced Ontario Arrows in a development fixture on Friday.
He will assist Kingsley Jones, the former Wales player who is head coach of a Canada side that are targeting qualification for next year’s World Cup.
There are three qualifying berths still open for the competition in Japan in September 2019. Canada have to win a four-team repechage event to make it to the World Cup.
Paul had worked alongside Jones coaching in Russia in the past, and he jumped at the chance to reprise the relationship in Canada.
Paul, who also represented New Zealand in rugby league, became the biggest-name coach yet to work in domestic rugby when he joined the Dragons in 2016.
His two seasons with the Dubai club culminated with them climbing back to the top of the regional game by becoming West Asia Premiership champions this season.
Stuart Quinn, the Dragons chairman, said the club are thrilled for Paul, even if it means they will be losing “the best coach in the region”.
“We are all stoked for him, but gutted, too, because he has been an amazing part of the team,” Quinn said.
“He really wants to take coaching as a career. We have absolutely loved having him. He is a great friend of the club. Winning the West Asia Premiership was the icing on the cake.
“He came to the Dragons when we were in the doldrums. He took us to the UAE Premiership final the first year and we managed to top it off by winning the big one the next year.
“He couldn’t have done much more, and he has been rewarded by having a shot at international coaching.”
Quinn said Paul’s departure could amount to a “sabbatical”. He has an 18-month contract, up until the end of the World Cup, but the full stay might be dependent on Canada’s performance in qualifying.
His fiancée lives in Dubai, which was the driving factor for him leaving the UK to move to the emirate, and thus coach the Dragons, in 2016.
Quinn says the club are actively pursuing a replacement, though, and the new recruit could be of similar standing to Paul.
“I can imagine the Arsenal board have had less meetings about [Arsene] Wenger leaving than we have had,” Quinn said.
“It is going to be difficult to replace him, but the show must go on.
“We are really excited for him. We have lost the best coach in the region, as far as we are concerned, but it is not to a rival.
“If we get to fly out to Japan to watch him help topple a giant [at the World Cup] that would be terrific for us.
“We were very, very lucky with Henry. We got the name, and a guy who very much understood what amateur rugby is all about.”