Alistair Hess’ “special” kick final gave Dubai Hurricanes victory at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Harlequins Junior Rugby Tournament yesterday after three successive final defeats.
Hess’ monstrous conversion of his own try from the touchline in a swirling wind saw Canes sweep to a dramatic 7-5 victory over tournament hosts Quins in the Under-15 boys’ section yesterday.
It was fourth time lucky for this group of players, who had tasted defeat in each of the last three editions of the tournament at U-12, U-13 and U-14 level.
After a scoreless first half it did not look good for Canes early on in the second period when James Wilson went over out wide to give Quins the lead, although a difficult conversion was off target.
Quins had brushed aside Doha 40-0 in the semi-final but this was a much tighter affair with both defences keeping each other at bay.
It was going to take something special to win it and that moment of magic came halfway through the second half when Canes launched a counter-attack from the shadow of their own posts, which zig-zagged across the pitch before being finished off in the corner by Hess.
Faced with a near-impossible angle, the 15-year-old sank the conversion to the delight of his team-mates. And, despite Quins hammering away for a winning score near the end, Canes held on for a momentous win.
“It’s a fabulous tournament, the organisation is faultless and it’s really good to finally win one,” said a relieved Canes team manager Douglas Wade.
“We’ve lost in the last three finals in a row, usually to Quins, in similar fashion. This group of players have lost at U-12, U-13s, U-14s so it’s really nice to get that monkey off our back.
“It’s really good to come down here and finally get the win. The boys deserve it, they’ve worked really hard this year, so we’re very proud.”
And Wade singled out star player Hess for praise.
“It was a monstrous kick. Alistair has had a great weekend, he’s been pretty talismanic for us and the rest of the boys backed him up. His kick was pretty special,” he said.
After a tumultuous couple of campaigns, reaching the West Asia Premiership play-offs is no less than what Jebel Ali Dragons deserve, according to captain Ross Samson.
They did it the hard way too, taking the season down to their final game, but they snagged fourth spot and with it a play-off berth after a 29-12 victory against Abu Dhabi Saracens on Thursday night.
The bonus point triumph means Henry Paul’s side finish fourth, ahead of ousted West Asia and UAE champions Dubai Exiles, and will now play West Asia Premiership champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins for a spot in the West Asia Cup final on March 31.
And, following victories home and away against last season’s fallen giants, Samson says their shot at both Cup and UAE Premiership glory is richly deserved.
“We like to make things difficult for ourselves don’t we?,” joked Dragons’ Scottish skipper after Thursday’s win.
“That’s the nature of play offs – do whatever you can to make the top four. It wasn’t the smoothest of seasons but we have come a hell of a long way since last season. We have pushed the top three teams close on multiple occasions and beat Exiles twice so we are deserved fourth.”
There is plenty if logic to Samson’s words. Dragons beat Jacques Benade’s Exiles 42-30 at home in October and 27-10 at The Sevens last month.
And even though they lost five games against seven defeats (Exiles won six and lost six), Dragons did indeed push the three sides above them close.
Dragons lost by a total margin of just 10 to Doha over two games and in arguably the most memorable match of the campaign led Quins for much of their November 3 encounter before losing 31-30 in a game that lasted 100 minutes.
There is plenty of unfinished business for Samson and Co. They travel to Abu Dhabi to play Quins next Friday having gone down 47-7 to Mike McFarlane’s men just three weeks ago.
At a windswept Zayed Sports City, Mike McFarlane’s men sent out an ominous warning to Jebel Ali Dragons, who they will face next week in the semi-finals of the West Asia Cup, that they are fired up to complete a clean sweep of honours this season.
Quins added the Premiership title to their Dubai Sevens and Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League at the end of February, but will boast a five-trophy haul in 2016/17 if they can also lift the Cup and UAE Premiership.
The Premiership title may have been sewn up in calamitous circumstances – Quins were handed the title when last night’s opponents informed them last month the competition was actually based on a league format and not knockout – but they did not take their foot off the pedal against Bahrain.
“This was not a dead rubber for us, definitely not,” said Scottish scrum-half Andrew Semple, who shone at fly-half with Luke Stevenson rested.
“Last time we had a two week break we didn’t come back from it well. We’ve got an unbeaten home record here and we’re not going to give it up easily just because it was a dead rubber.
“We said that with the wind it would be a tight first half and we talked about using the elements to our advantage in the second half and it worked well. We played in the right areas.”
Bahrain coach Louie Tonkin shouldered the blame for perhaps focusing too much on next week’s mouthwatering Cup semi-final clash against Doha, but is adamant his team will quickly erase the memory of their biggest defeat of the season.
“You can’t turn up against a team like Abu Dhabi and expect to compete when you’re not on par mentally,” said the Welshman, with things going wrong for his side early in the day following a four-hour delayed flight.
“They’re a very, very good side and showed why they’re league champions and any team coming here has to be 100 per cent switched on and accurate if they’re going to have any chance of winning.
“There’s no question we had one eye on the semi next week. I take the responsibility for that, perhaps focusing our game plan too much on Doha when we’re coming to the league champions last game of the season and trying to gain momentum.
“That’s my fault and I’m 100 per confident the boys will bounce back and be a completely different side next week.”
With this game being a write off in terms of significance there was a concern it would lead to a dour encounter. But any such fears were swept away by the snarling wind bellowing around Zayed Sports City in a frenetic first 40 minutes.
The hosts opened up a 12-0 lead through lock Patrick Jenkinson’s simple opening try from a lineout, before flanker Gerrit Visser finished off a slick handling move instigated by Willie Umu’s barnstorming run.
But the red wave retaliated to level at the break. First hooker Lindsey Gibson dived over when he cleverly took a quick tap when Quins were penalised after Bahrain had driven them back via penalties and penetration.
Tonkin’s side were suddenly rampant and after a multitude of phases that criss-crossed the field, centre Lewis Chance pierced a hole in a tiring Quins defence – Umu’s yellow card didn’t help – to dot down under the post to level the scores.
It should have set up a scintillating second half, but instead Bahrain imploded.
Quins were 24-12 up with two tries in a minute. First they were given a penalty try before rapid Irish centre Brian Geraghty chipped ahead and outpaced the visiting defence, collecting brilliantly with one hand to cross.
Down to 14 themselves following the penalty try, Bahrain briefly weathered the storm before the floodgates opened.
Visser went over for his second before replacement Vito Tuivione sliced through, another replacement Tom Brown streaking clear to make it the magnificent seven for Quins.
The away side stuck to their task and were rewarded with a consolation score at the death for winger Greg Heath.