Sharjah Wanderers fired up for ‘big occasion’ in UAE Conference final

Sharjah Wanderers will look to be the second historic UAE club returning to the winners podium when they face Jebel Ali Dragons XV in the UAE Conference final.

DUBAI // One of the UAE’s most historic rugby clubs made a long awaited return to the winners podium last Friday.

A week on, Sharjah Wanderers will be hoping to follow the lead of Dubai Exiles when they contest the UAE Conference final against Jebel Ali Dragons second XV.

Sharjah have home advantage on account of an outstanding record this season which sees them go into the final undefeated.

The only points they have given up were in a drawn match against their final opponents earlier in the campaign.

Despite their excellence to date, Luke Banks, the Wanderers captain, acknowledged there are some underlying nerves ahead of the big match.

Read more: Mission accomplished – With West Asia trophy, Dubai Exiles complete revival

Also see: 'Small club' Sharjah Wanderers are thinking big in UAE Conference

“We are excited because this is a big occasion for the club,” Banks said. “We just want to get there now and play the game. When I first joined four years ago, we used to train with about eight or nine guys.

“We have had some great new players join the club, which has made a big difference. We have kept the same solid core over three seasons and a few good additions have really boosted us.”

Established in 1977, 11 years after Dubai Exiles, Sharjah have a proud history. Many stars have trodden the turf at the Wanderers.

Ryan Grant, a Scotland prop who has played for the British & Irish Lions, once wore the red and black shirt as a Wanderers player.

Carlos Spencer, Christian Cullen and Conrad Jantjes have all made guest appearances there in the recent past.

The club also hosted the Under 19 Rugby World Championship in 2006, a tournament which involved future internationals like Will Genia, Danny Care and Brad Davies.

Despite having enviable facilities and being centrally located in Sharjah, the club have opted to train in Dubai in recent seasons in order to access a larger player base.

Banks, who lives and works in Dubai, says the players still have a firm grasp of their club’s identity, though.

“It is a massive thing for us to still be Sharjah,” the back-row forward said.

“Many of the older players are still involved in the club and they always get that message across to the new guys coming in. This season, more than in the past three years, we have a lot more Sharjah-based players.”

While the form guide favours the home side, Dragons are the ones with experience of the atmosphere of a Conference final day.

They were narrowly beaten at the same stage last season, when they lost out in Al Ain against the Amblers, who were subsequently promoted to the top flight.

“This our second chance at winning the Conference title,” said Mike Taylor, the Dragons captain.

“Sharjah are a very good team with a big pack and fast backs. They haven’t lost all season, so it is going to be a huge challenge but it is one that we are really looking forward to.”

pradley@thenational.ae

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