Sean Carey has a curt response to rival clubs who question Dubai Eagles’ rapid ascent to UAE club rugby’s top table – get used to us because we’re not going anywhere.
Eagles’ introduction to life among the elite was a turbulent one on Friday night as they crashed to an 85-8 defeat on the West Asia Premiership’s opening night against Dubai Exiles – Carey’s former side.
They showed brief glimpses of togetherness and talent, and Ross Bailey notching the new club’s first-ever try minutes from the end proved Eagles have plenty of fight in them.
They are going to need it, with a long season surely ahead. But despite suffering a defeat that looks ominous, Carey insists it’s a solid foundation for a club that definitely has a future.
“We’re not going anywhere, we’re going to learn. We’re only going to grow from here. This is the start,” said a defiant Irishman.
“From six weeks ago and seven people at our first training we’ve now got a full team, a women’s team and kids too, so that’s all been good for us. It’s all going to take off, it just takes time, but we’re in it for the long run. People better get used to seeing more of Eagles.”
Carey’s courage is admirable and not without merit. Everyone has to build up from the bottom and on Friday there were encouraging signs Eagles can get off the ground and eventually soar.
From fly-half and director of rugby Carey and half-back partner Josh Ives being loud and vocal, clearly possessing keen rugby brains with which to guide the fledgling Eagles on the field.
To injured captain Conor Coakley, animatedly pounded every inch of the touchline as he coaxed and encouraged his teammates. Head coach Pat Benson and what looked like a dedicated team of assistants, meanwhile, gestured and offered advice and praise.
These few core individuals care a great deal about the new venture. And that bodes well for a sustainable future.
“We’re here for the long run. It will come,” said Carey, keeping the faith.
“We were putting in the hits and making the tackles, it’s just the set-piece was the big difference. There’s no way you can win a game if you’re losing every single scrum or lineout, and that doesn’t come down to pride, it’s organisation.
“I think the pride showed when we came back at the end and scored, but it will come. We’re six weeks old, some guys don’t know each other that well yet or even second names of their team-mates, so it’ll come.
“The scoreline was a disappointment but we’re not looking at it. We know where we’re at. Simple things we’ll get right and that will mean 30 points off the scoreboard next time. We’ve got Sarries (Abu Dhabi Saracens) now and we’re looking forward to that. Regroup and go again.”
Opposing chairman Mike Wolff has been quite critical of Eagles’ aided flight up the UAE rugby ranks this summer. Exiles director of rugby Jacques Benade also wonders whether starting a few rungs down would have been more beneficial for Eagles, although he is also happy to see a new club emerging while others struggle.
“It will be tough for them. It’s all new to them and they will have to grow. This is a good level of rugby and a lot of their players will have to get used to it,” said Benade, heading into his third season at the Exiles helm.
“But I saw signs from them. The first 20 minutes they controlled it well with Josh at nine and Sean at 10, and they had a few forwards coming off the ball. There were not a lot of options after that but it’s something they can definitely build on.
“They have the heart, you could see the guys worked their balls off, they wanted to defend, they wanted to play.”
Although he admires their gusto and is happy his players and those with UAE aspirations have two more competitive fixtures than they might have otherwise faced, with Doha dropping out of the Gulf picture, Benade predicts things getting worse before they get better.
“Should they maybe be in the Conference one year to grow and build? I don’t know,” added the South African.
“Not just because what other people are saying, but for them. I think it’s important to go and step up every week, whereas here it’s only going to get harder and harder.
“Against (Jebel Ali) Dragons, (Abu Dhabi) Quins, it’s going to be really hard on them, and I think they’ll have to get something from the games because it’s going to be hard to keep the boys positive, if every weekend they’re getting 50 or 60 points put on them.
“Maybe if they’re in the Conference they get some wins together, play some good rugby, there’s a buzz about the club.
“It’s very hard because we want more fixtures and we’re happy because, with Eagles here, we play more games and with Doha out this year it would have been really sad if there were reduced games.
“Al Ain too, it’s always a good game there and for UAE rugby to grow you need more competitive fixtures, to play week in week out. I think you saw that with the UAE (in the Asia Rugby Championship) this year, other teams just looked fitter.”
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