The mood of cautious optimism about the revival of Abu Dhabi Saracens has been punctured after they were forced to forfeit their West Asia Premiership fixture against Dubai Exiles.
The 2015 champions have suffered a series of problems this season, which has seen them lose a coach, chairman, a number of senior players, and even – for five months – the use of their home ground.
They had hoped a corner had been turned when they moved back in to their ground at Al Ghazal last month.
However, an availability crisis that sees them without 17 players from an already small senior playing squad meant they had to cancel their Friday trip to play the Exiles on the eve of the game.
The Exiles will be granted the equivalent of a bonus-point win to add to their West Asia Premiership tally.
But, the cancellation has vexed the Dubai club, given it is the third such occurrence against them recently.
League newcomers Dubai Sports City Eagles cited similar problems for pulling out of their Premiership fixture against the city’s oldest club before Christmas.
The Exiles second team also missed out on their UAE Conference match against Sharjah Wanderers, while now the first-team players face another weekend without rugby.
Mike Wolff, the Exiles chairman, empathises with Saracens.
When he started his stint in office in 2012, the UAE’s longest established club were in similar straits, as they were briefly forced to withdraw from competition due to dwindling player numbers. They bounced back to the point they were the region's No 1 side two seasons ago.
However, he is also aware that his own players are being deprived playing time, which is the reason they pay subscription fees.
“I feel for Saracens because of the position that they are in, but unfortunately it is indicative of the league at the moment,” Wolff said.
“You have three or four clubs who can hold their own and meet their commitments, but some that can’t, for different reasons.
“The knock-on effect is simple. If you are trying to persuade people to pay money to play rugby, and other clubs fail to commit, it is deeply frustrating.”
The top two sides in the division meet at Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence on Friday when the Dragons, who are top on points-difference, host Bahrain.
The home side are also dealing with the effects of availability problems, but Henry Paul, the coach, is confident ahead of the game against undefeated Bahrain.
“With the holidays, and people travelling, it has been challenging, but I think all clubs have been facing the same issues,” Paul said.
“We have the best team we can put out playing, which is pretty similar to the team we have had week in, week out, so I am happy with that.”
Defending champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins host DSC Eagles at Zayed Sports City in the other top-flight match on Friday.