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Aaron Persico hits the ground running 2019Italian oversees difficult opening clash against defending West Asia champions Bahrain

Just as the final whistle was blowing on Italy’s Rugby World Cup loss to South Africa on Friday, one of their celebrated former players was running out on a school playing field in Dubai.

Only 26 players in history have played more Test matches for Italy than the 56 Aaron Persico racked up between 2000 and 2006. His career span included a trip to the 2003 World Cup in Australia. Five years after finishing his professional playing career in Italy, he was back in the ranks of Dubai Tigers, West Asia rugby’s newest top-flight team.

Persico is the Dubai Tigers coach, but filled the breach in the team’s second row as they made their first appearance in the region’s premier cross-border competition. They were handed the toughest start possible, facing the defending West Asia champions Bahrain. Despite the 39-5 defeat, the league new boys showed up well at Dubai College.

The New Zealand-born player-coach played all his international career, which included Test matches at Twickenham, Lansdowne Road, and Stade de France, as a flanker. Playing in the second row against Bahrain RFC was an unusual experience for him, but he was glad of the chance.

“I haven’t played there a lot, but knowing the profile of our team, it was about working out what was best for the team,” said Persico, who played three matches when the Tigers won the UAE Conference last season.

“We had a couple of personnel changes here and there. I had played at lock a little bit here and there, but my main position is flanker. I was happy to get in there. We were pretty happy with patches of the game. It was a step into the unknown for us, and we were playing Bahrain, who have a big reputation. That was exactly what we needed, to play the best, and we can just build upon that. There are things we could have done better, but there were plays that created opportunities, and we can build on that for the rest of the season.”

Earlier on Friday, Dubai Hurricanes got the new domestic season off to a flying start as they beat Dubai Knights Eagles 58-10 at The Sevens.

Saki Naisau scored a hat-trick of tries after being introduced as a second-half substitute, as part of an onslaught that saw the home side score 47 points after the break.

In a repeat of last year’s UAE Premiership final, defending domestic champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins laid down a marker with a 56-16 win away at Jebel Ali Dragons.

Read full article from The National.