Doha Rugby Football Club win the Arabian Gulf Top Six for the first time!
It was March 2011. The second-ranked Doha Rugby 1st XV lead the fifth-ranked Jebel Ali Dragons, by six points in the final Arabian Gulf Top Eight (now six) match of the year. An earlier loss by the top-ranked Dubai Hurricanes meant that win, and the title was Dohas. With 30 seconds left on the clock, 30 seconds from Doha winning the Gulf Top 8 for the first time in their 39 year history, Dragons get the ball on their 22 metre line. They work it down field. Right to left, left to right. There is a ruck on the Doha 22 metre line. The Dragons half-back dummys, the Doha player “posting the ruck” takes the dummy, despite training to do just the opposite for the preceding eight months. The Dragons half-back scores under the posts. They convert. They win. Doha take second place in the Arabian Gulf Top 8. I was the captain of that Doha team. And that loss hurt.
Fast-forward nearly four years and Doha still hadn’t won the Arabian Gulf Top Six competition. It’s an incredibly hard league to win, especially for those teams based outside the UAE, who have to travel (fly) to every second match in the now six team home and away fixture format. There are two teams from Dubai (the Hurricanes and Dragons), two teams from Abu Dhabi (the Harlequins and Saracens) and two teams from the wider Gulf (Doha and Bahrain). And its very competitive.
The 2014 Abu Dhabi Harlequins deserve a mention here. I don’t just mention them because I helped coach them last year, I mention them because they deserve it; their incredible record last year of 10 wins out of 10, 47 points out of a possible 50 on the points table speaks for itself. Well done to all players involved. Mana to you.
And then there was this year….
And Doha once again played Jebel Ali Dragons in the final Gulf Top 6 game of the season, at Jebel Ali in eeringly similar circumstances to the 2011 match. Top-ranked Doha play fifth-ranked Jebel Ali. With 20 minutes to go and Dragons on the comeback, 25-22 to Doha, nervous supporters thought that history might repeat…
Not for the class of 2015. The result?
49-22 to Doha!
No 79 minute 30 second brain explosion. Just a big W on the chalkboard! In the words of Doha stalwart Angus Fraser “Only a fool makes the same mistake twice.”
Sincere congratulations to the Doha Class of 2015. There is a smile on this dial as wide as the new moon. So much mana to you all. Well done on being the only and first Doha team in 41 years to win the Arabian Gulf Top 6! There were some very happy former players and managers yesterday, from Doha (Nick Croker), to Dublin (Richard Liddington), to Wales (Paul Caddick), to Australia (Charlie Napier), to Abu Dhabi (me), to New Zealand (Doha rugby godfather Kerry Hill). Thank you for finally doing it!!!!
This week: The West Asian Club Championship Final
The top two teams in the Arabian Gulf Top 6 play in the West Asian Club Championship Final. This week, top-ranked Doha play one of the Gulf’s newest additions, four-year-old Abu Dhabi Saracens, in Doha. At stake, the chance to be the rugby kings of West Asia.
It has been billed by some as a clash of the eras. The old-school country club (Doha) v the big-spending Saracens. I don’t buy completely into that analogy. Paying rugby players in amateur competitions occurs all over the world – it has just come later to the Gulf competition than most. My view is that culture is what will prevail at a club, and it appears that both clubs currently have plenty. And regardless, time will be the best indicator of that.
So who will win?
Saracens were the early season favourite and beat Doha at Al Ghazel back in January, 39-15. Two weeks ago, Doha playing at home, reversed the result and did their own demolition job on Saracens 31-17.
Both games have been one-sided affairs.
This week’s result? If both sides show –a rugby match for the ages. Saracens have a solid forward pack, a big kicking ten and a very hard to repel rolling maul. Doha are unbeaten at the Fortress and have more of an expansive all-round game. If Doha keep their feet on the ground after this week’s league victory, I’m backing Aaron Palmer, Liam Frost and Jamie Clark’s men. I believe the Doha team can and will do it. It’s difficult for any opposition at the Fortress playing against men possessed.
And for those Gulf Rugby enthusiasts, I include the article below, written in 2012, after Doha won the West Asian Club Championship for the first time.
The Doha Rugby Football Club by Winston Cowie (2012)
There are rugby clubs and Rugby clubs. The Doha Rugby Football Club is a Rugby Club; epitomising the principles of what the game is about; a desire to play rugby for enjoyment, but with the competitive spirit and good sportsmanship that are the game’s building blocks; and the development of a supportive community around that.
What is my connection to the Doha Rugby Football Club (DRFC)? I lived in Doha for three years and had the pleasure of playing for and captaining the Doha 1st XV and coaching and playing for the 7s side at the Dubai 7s.
A Rugby Club in an arid country? Yes. Formerly a British Protectorate, the State of Qatar became independent in 1971. Three years later, a group of British expats started throwing a rugby ball around and in 1974 the DRFC was formed.
Easily said but not easily done, to set up a Rugby Club in a hot and arid country. Let me give you some context as to what was achieved in 1974 and what has been achieved since.
The Country; Qatar
Qatar is an arid country that sticks like a finger out from Saudi Arabia, into the Arabian Gulf. Over the past 35 years, a city has been built from scratch in Doha (the capital), based on the oil & gas industry, with industrial cities at Ras Laffan in the north and Mesaieed in the south. It is not the typical setting that the likes of William Webb Ellis would have envisaged the game of rugby being played.
Yet, today (2012) the Doha Club are the West Asian Club Champions and Qatar, the national side, have twice won the 4th Division of the Asian 5 Nations, recently beating Lebanon 67-0 in the final.
What makes it, with Oxford and Mahurangi (my other home clubs), the most special rugby club I have ever played for?
A combination of the people, the setting, the temperature and culture.
Every rugby club needs a pitch. Our pitch is enclosed by a thickly painted, cream brick wall and is known around the Arabian Gulf as ‘The Fortress.’ The Doha 1st XV are known as the “Mighty Men,” who on any given Friday afternoon, “defend the Fortress,” a term coined by club stalwart, Mr Kerry Hill.
Grassed in 1998 (previously sand), the Fortress is a lush, springy grass pitch with the cosy Clubrooms and Grandstand located pitch side. Every Friday afternoon the Doha expat population flock there. A lively collection of English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, French, Italian, Dutch, Kiwis, Samoans, South Africans, Aussies, Belgian, Romanian, Sri Lankan, Indonesian, Filipino, Americans, Canadians, Lebanese and Nigerian; you name the nationality, on any given Friday afternoon, I am sure they will have a representative. A bit like the Doha 1st XV. As for the supporters, well, at the start of the game the fridges would be filled to the brim with diet-Pepsi and near on 600 Mighty Men fans would be there to cheer as the lads defended the Fortress. By the end of the match the firdges would be empty and the 1st XV very well supported.
I haven’t yet mentioned the heat. The season runs from September through to March, from Autumn through to Spring. At the beginning of the season, we play in temperatures of 40-45oC and yes it is more than pretty hot. At the end of the game you are absolutely buggered. During Winter the temperature gets down to 25- 35 oC so it is manageable. Don’t let me forget to mention pre season training on Doha’s only grassy knoll behind Aspire Park; 50 odd blokes burning their lungs out in a humid 45 oC. Dry reaching was the acceptable and to be honest; normal, training standard.
And so to the competition. The Arabian Gulf Premiership (in 2012) is generally played (depending on the political situation) between 8 teams, two from Dubai (Hurricanes and Exiles), one from Jebel Ali, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Doha (in 2015 it is six teams). The competition involves a Home and Away game, with flights mostly provided, depending on sponsorship, to the games. Home and Away sounds like an easy format but think again.
Playing at home was dear I say it, easy; we would play in front of 600 raucous fans having a quiet swill on a 45 oC afternoon and I could count on two fingers the number of times we lost at home in 3 years. This is because everybody is available to play at home and we took pride in our pitch; it was the graveyard of many a cocky Dubai side, notably the Exiles. Playing away is a different story; not every nationality is fortunate enough (as we are in New Zealand) to be able to get into most countries in the world. Playing away was hard, especially given our strong South African contingent and their visa situation and players having to work some Fridays. With over 50 players to choose from, some weeks it would be difficult to get 17 players to front most away games!
As such, in my first year in Doha, 2008, I think we lost every away game and by quite a bit. It was heart breaking to play your heart out in the scorching heat, know you were better than the opposition if you had your full team, but lose by 60 points. One game I will never forget; we lost to the Dubai Hurricanes away by 60. After the match we were demoralised and hurting. It had been a baking hot day and we had been spanked. To turn that loss around later in the season to a home win of over 50, was pretty satisfying.
In my first two years, we finished third in the Premiership behind Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, traditional Arabian Gulf powerhouses who in 2009-2010, had very strong sides. It was the third year, 2011, that things really started to happen for DRFC…..
The People and Culture
You could make a movie about the goings on at the DRFC, mainly based on the characters involved. When I first arrived, the place was like living in the Wild West and the footy took second place to socialising, always a hard balance to make at country footy clubs. By the time I left and due to a number of rugby loving characters, we took playing rugby seriously, trained hard, played hard and had a very quiet swill afterwards ;). Thirty eight years after being founded, in 2012, we were the West Asian Club Champions.
A variety of reasons is the answer. We had great support off the pitch from the Club. Stalwarts and some of the Godfathers of the DRFC (Keith Townson and Howard Bevan) and Club Captains Dave Kane and Chris Downey really supported what the boys wanted to achieve. We had a good relationship with the women’s two teams, the Oryx and Trojans, and we supported each other when the other was playing. It was a really good community and family vibe.
We also had a great coaching team of Aaron Palmer (former Manawatu player), Nicko Poulos (former Tongan and Toyota Assistant), Paul Caddick (former British Army player), Charlie Napier (former Olympic Bob sledder (true) and Manager) and all overseen by the Director, legendary Doha Coach and Manager (6 years involvement) and former New Zealand Olympic Sprint Coach, Kerry Hill.
We had the club, the coaches and the supporters. We also had a core group of players, many of whom were leaders and all whom wanted to make the elusive championship win happen.
Every championship winning Rugby club needs a core of players to be keen and get everybody motivated. In Doha, the player count really depends on how much construction work is going on in the country at any given time. In 2008 we were lucky in that we had the beginnings of what would be the core of that championship winning side 4 years later.
A quick insight into the changing nature of Club Rugby in New Zealand (and probably in other parts of the world). Back in the day in New Zealand, the community was focussed around rugby clubs; most of the men played and the highlight of the weekend was the rugby match and after match function. Take the Omaha Club in Mahurangi, New Zealand as an example. In the 1960s and 1970s the club regularly won the Govan Wilson Cup and the ‘Cock of the North’ Championship and players like Laly (Tracker) Haddon, Des Chitty, Ian Ward, Murray and Rod Jones became legendary when playing for North Auckland during the 1960’s to early 1970’s when North Auckland beat most teams including visiting Test Nations. Rugby and the community were directly linked.
Nowdays, Omaha is part of the Mahurangi Club and very few young players in the area play; fishing, duck shooting and surfing are more attractive options. I guess this is related to youngsters having more disposable income these days and more options, but you can imagine how pure Rugby and the community was back in the day, can’t ya?
Back to Doha. Playing for Doha was, I imagine, a throwback to the old school and Omaha days in that most guys in the community played rugby; we were living in a desert country with little to do in our spare time and with really only one establishment we could socialise at; the Rugby Club. As such, we threw ourselves into rugby for a release, became tight friends and experienced the joy of rugby and the community being one and the same. I feel privileged to have played in an environment like it; they are rare in this day and age.
Anyway, back to the DRFC.
The Doha lads, I guess like the Omaha days, were the real drivers behind turning the team around. We had some pretty impressive rugby credentials and pedigrees and rather than list them right here, I have included them at the bottom of the blog for those rugby enthusiasts and the Doha Boys.
So what happened?
We lost by 60 away together, we won at home and then with a bit of hard work, we started winning away matches.
So what happened in 2010-2011? After 20 games, seventeen won, three lost, 778 points for, 224 against, the boys had given it a bloody good nudge. To share with you a couple of highlights:
-Beating the 2009 Premiership champs Bahrain 3/3 during the season;
-Beating the Exiles comprehensively at home and away as well;
-Winning in the sandpit in Kuwait (always a struggle) against the Fijian army regiment in the last minute;
-Beating Abu Dhabi away by scoring 3 tries in the last 4 minutes to get a bonus point win;
-Putting cricket score tonnes on Muscat and Beirut in successive weekends; and
-Winning the North Gulf Four and Gulf Conference.
That all sounds pretty good, however….. in what was essentially the decider in the 2010-2011 Arabian Gulf Premiership, we were playing Jebel Ali Dragons, Away. With no time left on the clock, we were in the lead and on attack, yet we self destructed and the Dragons scored a length of the field try, to win and make sure that we didn’t take the Premiership, that trophy going to the Dubai Hurricanes. To come so close and lose the Premiership was devastating. Yet, we had a shot at redemption with the West Asian Club Championship, which we had reached the final of. Playing at Home v the Dubai Hurricanes, we were quietly confident of winning. Yet, disaster struck. There was no happily-ever-after story for DRFC in 2011 or for me.
I dislocated my knee in the 10th minute of the final and tore everything (ACL,PCL, Lateral ligament, Hamstring, IT Band, Medial ligament) and was rushed to hospital. After two operations and six months later, I left Doha. We also lost the final, 24-20. Devastated would be a way to put how the season ended up for the DRFC. Losing is hard to take when you put so much effort into something. But such is life sometimes.
When the chips are down, you know who your mates are.
I needed two operations. They were both very very expensive. You can imagine how I felt when the Rugby Club held two fundraising events for me and other injured players; fundraising events that covered all of the costs of operations for all injured players, including me. What a bunch of people and a community. I couldn’t be more grateful to a community for helping me out when I needed assistance. I thought about what I could do to say thanks; I said thanks and also had framed one of my prized Oxford University Varsity Match Shirts; it now sits proudly on the wall of DRFC. Thanks guys. I still shake my head with wonder at your kindness and won’t forget it.
Doha Rugby Football Club – 2012 West Asian Club Champions
And so I returned to New Zealand and got on with life with my family. I stayed in touch with all of the Doha crew; we had become pretty tight over the preceding 3 years. Just over a year to the day that we lost the 2011 Final, and a year after the injury, I received a phone call in the middle of the night. The boys were singing and had won the West Asian Club Championship Final. I was so stoked with the result, chatted to the inebriated bunch, put the phone down, and then cried my eyes out. It meant a hell of a lot to receive that call and the win brought closure to four years of hard work. To the likes of Kerry Hill, Aaron Palmer, Nick Poulos, Charlie Napier, Richard Liddington, Liam Frost and Paul Caddick who drove it this year (2012); well done boys, you nailed it.
This was a story I was keen to share. It is a microcosm of all things good in life.
Winston Cowie (Winnie)
And the Team? I have included below some details of those guys who were the core driving force behind Doha’s success. I have also listed all (there are 117!) of those guys that played for Doha over the past 4 seasons.
(Thanks also to Kerry Hill for the stats ;) Who else? ;)
We had one Qatari play for us between 2008-2011, Mr Muhammed Al Maliki.
Muhammed was a fantastic player, a winger who could step and sprint his way through any opposition. He also had the biggest biceps you have ever seen. Move over Hulk Hogan.
Rugby is not really part of the national sports’ psyche in Qatar (Football/Soccer is the dominant sport), but with the recent winning of the Asian 5 Nations 4th Division, it looks like rugby in Qatar will now be a funded sport, and hopefully more Qataris become involved in the playing of it; they certainaly have the talent to do so.
Aaron Palmer. Chucky was our No 6 / Lock and Coach. With 34 New Zealand NPC games for Manawatu between 1999-2003 and after a stint played at Reggio Emilia and Colorno in Italy, not a bad fella to have calling the shots. He is now also (probably) the only International Coach with a 100% record (8/8 with the Qatar side). The guy really grabbed DRFC by the scruff of the neck, put his coaching stamp on it and nailed it, while being a good bloke. A big coaching future ahead and well deserved….
Winston Cowie, the writer, and try scoring No 8, holder of the try scoring record for Doha (35 tries in 40 matches (note to Frosty – we need an update from you now mate), played for Oxford University v Cambridge in the Varsity Match at Twickenham in 2006 and 2007, the British Penguins in Scotland, Varsity & Harbour Clubs in Dunedin, and Westlake Boys and Mahurangi in North Harbour.
Scott Murray was our outside centre and played for Varisty A in the Dunedin Club Competition. Say no more, the guy played for the club that has produced the most All Blacks of any and with Frosty, dominated the midfield for Doha.
Liam Geraghty was our No 10, a Tauranga Boys College and Bay of Plenty Colts product who had previously won a Bay of Plenty club title with Tauranga Sports. The General was all class and top points scorer in 2010-2011!
Wayne Balsom and Dayne Matthews, both from Taranaki, also fronted for the boys during ther stints in Doha.
Kerry Hill. hailing from Auckland’s North Shore, a former New Zealand Commonwealth Game representative and Olympic Sprint Coach, Kerry coached / managed / directed the Doha 1st XV over a period of 6 years. His passion and analytics are second to none- I doubt you would meet a more passionate guy about sport generally and rugby. He did the hard yards with the team when results ‘away’ were hard; I am so stoked to see that all his effort has now been rewarded with the title! A Doha Legend.
Richard “Two States” Liddington. Liddy was our loose head prop who had played for Northampton Saints, Stade Francais (French Championship Winner), Exeter Chiefs; and played for the USA in the 2004 Rugby World Cup, a career which included 2 appearances for the Barbarians. A legend of a bloke, former Doha 1st XV Captain, Club Captain, Social Captain and inventer of the infamous DRINGO, the downfall of many a visiting team. One of the best guys you could meet playing rugby.
Dave Kane. Whilst not a 1st XV player, Dave Kane was the Club Captain and was a legend for the work he put in; he met at the airport all men and women’s teams that played in Doha, took them to the club and cooked them a fry up. The coach of the Vets and a father with twins; the guy epitomised everything a good club man is about.
Nick Croker was our tight head prop and rock who prior to Doha played all his club rugby for the mighty Redruth (English National Division 2) and also for Cornwall in the English County Champs. Cornwall is famous for producing tough props and both English props that started for England in the Rugby World Cup Final in 2003 were Cornishmen. Nick also played a season of International Rugby for the Arabian Gulf, prior to them being disbanded.
Liam Frost and Mark Hibbs. These two were joined at the hip. Both played for The University of Leeds 1st XV, Ilkley, Bradford & Bingley and Morely in Northern England (National Division 3 North) and both were class. Frosty, an inside centre, captained the England U16s and has since captained Doha and the Qatar National team. He has scored 32 tries for Doha in 28 matches and will soon overtake Winston Cowie’s record of 35 tries for Doha in 40 matches. Good on ya Frosty as well. Well deserved. Hibbsy, a big boned Northern Englishman, also brought some grunt to the pack.
Daniel Liddell. A Leaguey who played for the Acorn Rugby League Club in York. A bloody good defender and try scoring machine.
Paul Beard. Beardy, a product of Doha College and a former Arabian Gulf international and current Qatar Inernational, was a star 10/12 for Doha, who kicked his goals, made his tackles, scored tries and was this year the top points scorer for Doha and Qatar.
Jim Hamilton, the biggest heart in DRFC and one of the most passionate rugby men you will ever meet. Top points scorer in 2008-2009, and a top 10 / 15, Jim was Mr Passion and played on the Friday after running 7 marathons in 7 days the week before. Unbelievable!
Cheerful Charlie Napier, our Manager. The guy loved being involved, was super organised, had good banter and was tight – everything needed of a good manager. Charlie had everything sorted week on week, year on year. Cheers mate ;) a bloody good sort as well!
There are never that many Aussies in World XVs and for good reason. ;) Joking aside, we had a couple of crackers.
Angus Fraser, a hard Papa New Guinean / Australian No 6, grew up with Will Genia in Papa New Guinea and made the move to Queensland with him, narrowly missing out on selection because he couldn’t make the conversion to the change of rules around rucking. Angus loved rucking and was one to keep the spirits of the troops up, twice being elected Players’ Player. He also introduced the PNG half time equivalent of oranges; Sugercane. Supporters often laughed to see the DRFC boys chewing on the stuff at half time. Good gear.
Nick Poulos. Former Tongan (at the Rugby World Cup 2003) and Toyota, Japan Assistant (under Eddie Jones), Nicko brought all of the nous that had helped South Africa win the World Cup. His drill and analysis of the game were, as you would expect, of a top professional standard and really helped Doha come on in leaps and bounds. Nicko was a super passionate coach for Doha, and as with Kaney, he balanced it with his young family and gave the boys everything. The boys are super grateful to him and wish him the best with the AFL Adelaide Crows.
Trent Webb, King of Stradbroke Island and spearfishing supremo and a hard edged lock.
Wade Quinn (Wombat), North Queensland’s No 1 Fly Half got stuck in when work allowed and played loosie, Fly Half, Centre and Full Back,
Paul Caddick was our fiery Welsh half back who had played rugby for the British Army and was of the Royal Welsh Regiment. Cad was our Captain in 2008-2010 and Assistant Coach thereafter. I really doubt that any other changing room could reach the intensity levels that Cad set. A Welsh and Doha Legend!
We also had some hard Irishmen in the forwards; Shane Kelly, a fearsome hooker from Old Belvedere; Conor Coakley, a tall, gruff and hard unit from De la Selle Palmerston), Phil Cronin, a dynamic No.7 who had played for Boroughmuir (Scottish Premiership 1), Naas RFC AIL 3, Irish Universities, and Leinster U18. We also had Irish backs who knew how to kick; Colm Coyle, a Stephen Larkham style Fly Half and Fullback from Trinity College Dublin and Ian O Conor, fastest winger the Gulf, also from De la Selle Palmerston.
We had plenty of Saffas and we all know that Saffas can play rugby. Unfortunately for the DRFC but fortunately for them, a lot of our South African contingent worked on the Emir’s Super Yacht and in between sojourns in the Seychelles, were only available for half the matches. Saffas included the likes of hardman and grunty lock and over 50 game Doha veteran, Gavin Piek, former Currie Cup Player Donnie Raw, Arabian Gulf International Jaco De Jager and semi pro surfer Tyrone Von Berg. Our South African star, however was a No.7 called Lindsay Fitzgerald. A former age grade South African Sprint Champion; Lindsay knew how to score tries and at the right moment.
And not to underestimate the contribution of all of the fellas below who played at least one 1st XV match over the past 4 seasons and contributed in some way shape or form to Doha being the West Asian Club Champions in 2012:
The Doha Boys
All listed here.