Ruck and Maul: Sand storm as Abu Dhabi Quins claim 'we're not in the middle of the desert'

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The Independent Online

Harlequins have been playing in Abu Dhabi for three years: the Abu Dhabi Harlequins, that is, who in 2008 became affiliated with the London club of the same name who on Wednesday announced their LV Cup tie against London Wasps will be held in the Gulf state on 30 January.

"We've seen comments in the UK about this game being in the middle of the desert but we've got three spanking new pitches at our club in the centre of the city," Rory Greene, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins chairman, told Ruck and Maul.

"There's great excitement about it here, the match was the big topic of conversation at training on Thursday night and I don't think Wasps and Quins will have any trouble selling the 5,000 tickets."

Greene's club, though run principally by British ex-pats, has members of 25 nationalities and 550 junior players from under-fives to U18s, including two of the Abu Dhabi royal family in the under-sixes.

"We have around 25 Emiratis in the juniors," said Greene, "and there's a big push to get more locals involved. Harlequins send academy coaches over and I've been to London with our first-team coach to watch and learn."

The match will be staged in the grounds of the seven-star Emirates Palace hotel – but won't it be a bit hot for rucking and mauling? Greene said: "It's an evening kick-off so the temperature should be in the high 20s – fine for rugby if a bit warmer than you're used to at the moment."

PS When Harlequins' director of rugby, Conor O'Shea, was asked what his team might otherwise have done for a winter break, he replied: "We'd probably have gone out in Richmond and had a pizza."

William Just lost a tooth

Starring as Ben in the smash-hit sitcom 'Outnumbered' and nabbing the title role in BBC's 'Just William' over the festive season hasn't kept young actor Daniel Roche from one of his other favourite pursuits: playing rugby.

Roche, whose father Tony's rugby writing has appeared in The Independent on Sunday, is a member of Saracens Amateurs' under-11s. He mentioned the sport with reading and music as his hobbies when appearing – and impressively getting much more than a word in edgeways – alongside Sir Terry Wogan, Victoria Wood and Rebecca Front on a recent radio chatshow.

Our Dan is no faint-hearted luvvy. Having forgotten to replace his gumshield after one half-time chat, his cheekbone met someone else's knee – and the scourge of Violet Elizabeth was left with a grin bearing one less tooth than before.

Tagicakibau brothers in arms

While London Irish hope to put an end to their nine-match losing streak at Saracens today, the Tagicakibau family, at least, can't lose.

Michael, at centre for Sarries, will be opposite brother Sailosi on the wing for Irish – both boys to be watched by mum Lofi and dad Isikeli who were over for Christmas and stayed especially for this fixture. A third brother, 18-year-old Sireli, is playing for Toulouse and two sisters live at home in New Zealand.

With all sorts of international qualification open to them – Lofi is Samoan and Isikeli is Fijian – Sailosi plumped for Samoa while Michael plays for Fiji.

As for that run of defeats, Irish have some way to go before matching the worst efforts by top-flight clubs in the open era. Stats specialists Stuart Farmer Media Services inform Ruck and Maul that Rotherham lead the way with 18 consecutive defeats in all competitions in 2003-04, followed by Bristol and Bedford with 14 each in 1997-98 and 1999-00 respectively.

French are up for the Cup

European competition returns next weekend, with Leicester, Northampton and Wasps best placed for England in the Heineken Cup and the Scarlets and Ospreys going well for Wales. The growing strength of French clubs is evident in the Amlin Challenge Cup, a competition our Channel-crossing confreres have not always shown much amour for.

As the groups stand before the final two rounds, the five Challenge Cup pool winners would be Stade Français, Brive, Agen, Bayonne and Montpellier. In this Europa League-style format, the pool winners will be joined in the quarter-finals by three runners-up from Heineken groups, who must each play away.