Rikus Swart, the UAE scrum-half, will miss Friday’s start of the West Asia Premiership season through injury, but is central to Abu Dhabi Saracens’ plans to regain their place as the No 1 side in the region.
The young South African, who debuted for the national team in the Asian Rugby Championship at the end of last season, had six stitches in a head wound sustained in a trial game last week.
As his forehead currently proves, training with teammates known for being among the most abrasive in Gulf rugby can be a dangerous occupation.
However, Swart says he is grateful to play alongside them when the competitive action starts.
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“I love playing behind that pack,” said Swart, 22, whose colleagues begin their Premiership campaign with a trip to Al Ain on Friday afternoon.
“I get clean ball all the time because they are winning it up front, and I get the chance to do what I want to.
“I feel like we have a really good system going on, big forwards who we are based around, but it is not like we are lacking in the backs.
“Our forward pack allows us to have momentum and front-foot ball all the time. That is great for the backs.”
Swart, who hopes to be back for the trip to Doha next weekend, is among a minority of UAE national team players to have also played representative rugby at age-group level for the country.
The versatile back toured Kazakhstan with the Under 19 side when he was still at the International School of Choueifat, and part of the junior system at Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
He returned to South Africa to study for a teaching degree, but opted to complete the course via online correspondence from the UAE.
As such, when he took up a place in the Saracens backline last season he was immediately eligible for selection for the full senior team.
Apollo Perelini gave him his senior bow on the successful Division 1 tour of Uzbekistan in May, and now he is looking for honours with both club and country.
Swart’s dexterity with ball in hand could help gild a Saracens side known for their forward power, as they attempt to regain a title they passed on to Dubai Exiles last season.
“Sarries are well known for their physical and bruising forward pack, but in pre-season the backs have been a revelation,” said Winston Cowie, the new Saracens coach.
“Rikus is a young talent. His core playmaking skills are excellent. He can play at half back, fly half and full back, and as a young bloke he is also very experienced, hence his involvement in the Saracens leadership group.
“He is certainly going to play a big part of our campaign this year and where he plays each week will depend on analysis of the opposition, injuries, etc.”
The meeting between Al Ain Amblers and Saracens in the Garden city is one of two all-UAE meetings on the opening day of the new top-tier season.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins return to The Sevens to play Dubai Hurricanes, on the same field as where they won the first trophy of the season, the Western Clubs Champions League, two weeks ago.
Henry Paul’s first competitive match as Jebel Ali Dragons head coach is away at Bahrain, while Exiles begin their title defence at home to Doha.
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