Mike McFarlane urges Abu Dhabi Harlequins to rise to tough challenge in 2018/19

Matt Jones - Editor 21:13 06/09/2018
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Mike McFarlane (r) celebrates winning the UAE Premiership, Quins' fifth and final trophy of a stunning 2016/17, with brothers Sam (c) and Ben Bolger.

Mike McFarlane has challenged his players to channel the famed Abu Dhabi Harlequins spirit as they battle to stay relative in what their head coach has described as a “rebuilding year”.

Quins claimed all five major trophies two seasons ago – West Asia Premiership, Dubai Sevens, UAE Premiership, West Asia Cup and Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League – for an unprecedented feat in domestic UAE rugby.

But financial woes and player departures were met with renewed efforts from rivals which resulted in a fiercely competitive 2017/18.

Success will only be more arduous to come by this year, but McFarlane feels the ‘one club’ ethos he has instilled at the club during his tenure will fire his squad for the journey ahead.

“Every year is a fresh start,” said McFarlane ahead of Friday’s visit of Sri Lankans Kandy in the second fixture of this season’s curtain-raising Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League tournament.

“We’re really looking forward to it but we have suffered over the summer with a large number of players leaving.”

Mike McFarlane has overseen a revolution since taking over at Quins.

Mike McFarlane has overseen a revolution since taking over at Quins.

Quins actually found themselves in a transitional period during 2017/18 following a dominant three-year spell in which silverware was hoovered up with regularity – 10 out of 19 trophies available over the last four years were hoisted by Quins, the majority of them under McFarlane’s guidance.

That included 2016/17’s marvelous quintuple, as well as three-straight Dubai Sevens titles from 2015-17.

They suffered troubles off the field even before last season began with the ending of a three-year sponsorship deal with Etihad was not followed up with a renewal.

There were also several high-profile player departures and the loss of influential skipper Ben Bolger to forced retirement through concussion.

Despite all this, they remained fiercely competitive on the field as they, Jebel Ali Dragons, Bahrain and Dubai Exiles contested and shared the major honours.

Quins retained the Champions League title and added the inaugural UAE Premiership Cup but the major titles avoided them.

They lost the West Asia Premiership crown thanks to last day heroics from Dragons in Bahrain – a 36-32 bonus point win earning them the title.

Bahrain beat Dubai Exiles in the West Asia Cup final, Exiles beat Dragons in the Dubai Sevens final and Quins lost the final game of the season and their grip on the UAE Premiership as they were dropped by Exiles.

McFarlane believes it could be “mission impossible” for his depleted squad to fight on all fronts once again this term – but he has urged Quins to step up to the plate.

“It’s two seasons in a row now we have lost large player numbers, which brings another rebuilding year with little depth yet lots of challenges,” he added.

“It seems mission impossible this year with the Dubai teams and Bahrain recruiting so heavily and us being decimated.

“However this is why I built the club on culture. It’s just hard with everyone’s high expectations which they take for granted. Last year was an incredible feat given losing a whole team.”

Last summer brought the devastating news that Bolger – McFarlane’s on-field general and Quins’ talisman – was forced to call it a day after repeated concussions.

Brian Geraghty was one of three big stars to leave Quins 12 months ago.

Brian Geraghty was one of three big stars to leave Quins 12 months ago.

Key figures Patrick Jenkinson, Willie Umu and Brian Geraghty also left the UAE as well as a host of others. This summer, meanwhile, has seen long-time club captain Phil Abraham hang up his boots as well as UAE stalwart Phil Brady.

Pieter Kilian, Alfred Ries, Tom Brown, Gerrit Visser, Jona Marshall and Joe Teasdale are also among the departures – leaving Quins fighting an uphill battle.

“All of them are first XV starters. And that’s on top of losing 12 first team players last season,” added McFarlane.

“We did so well last year considering we lost so many but to happen again this year is a nightmare. Especially as so many of the second team have gone too.”

Kandy arrive in the UAE capital having lost the Champions League opener 31-20 to Bahrain last weekend. Quins will hope to begin brightly as they then head to Bahrain next week for what will likely be a deciding match if they win on Friday.

They are chasing a third straight Champions League title.

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