When UAE rugby fans turn on their television sets and tune into the Rugby World Cup next year, there may well be a face they recognise staring back at them.
Former dual code New Zealand and England international Henry Paul left his post as Jebel Ali Dragons head coach in January to work once again alongside former Wales flanker Kingsley Jones who is in charge of Canada.
The pair had previously worked together with Russia from 2011-14 and Jones approached his friend earlier this year to help him at the America’s Rugby Championship (ARC).
Suitably impressed with his input, as well as perhaps by Paul leading the Dragons to their first trophy in four years with last season’s West Asia Premiership triumph, the 44-year-old left to become Jones’ assistant full-time in May.
And Canada secured the final place at next year’s World Cup in Japan after beating Hong Kong 27-10 in their repechage tournament on Saturday morning.
Hong Kong needed a bonus-point win and to deny their opponents anything from the game if they were to advance. But Glasgow Warriors winger DTH van der Merwe scored two tries while 38-year-old hooker Ray Barkwill also crossed the line.
Gordon McRorie added three conversions and two penalties to earn the Canucks an appearance at a ninth consecutive World Cup.
They will now go into Pool B for the tournament alongside defending champions New Zealand, two-time winners South Africa, Italy and Namibia.
Dragons chairman Stuart Quinn is predicting a raft of club members might well not be looking at flights and accommodation in Japan in a bid to support their former coach, who will eye the host nation’s epic victory over the Springboks in 2015 as inspiration for the Canucks.
“We’re obviously immensely proud of his achievement,” said Dragons chairman Quinn.
“Next is to try and get a win if possible in a tough group. Pulling a Japan would be awesome.”
The qualification process for lower tier nations, which began in St Vincent and the Grenadines in March 2016, has involved 188 matches across 994 days with 10,355 points scored in total by the 71 teams. All the teams began with a dream of playing in Japan, but only the USA, Uruguay, Russia, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Namibia and now Canada were able to secure qualification.
“He’s missed hugely by all of us at the Dragons but we felt we couldn’t hold him back any longer,” said a grateful Quinn.
“He was destined for more. We’re just glad he’s topped a West Asia Premiership success with qualification to the biggest stage. A few of the boys are going to head out and support him next year, while some may even be digging around for Canadian grandparents.”
Know more about Sport360 Application