History beckons for Abu Dhabi Harlequins as they go in search of quintuple and perfect season

Matt Jones 5/04/2017
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Brothers Sam (l) and Ben Bolger (r) hope for a fairytale ending to theirs and Quins' season

Jebel Ali Dragons stand between Abu Dhabi Harlequins and immortality as the capital city club go in search of an unprecedented fifth trophy of an already remarkable season.

If Mike McFarlane’s men can claim the UAE Premiership title at Dubai Sports City tomorrow, they will complete a clean sweep of honours – with no team having previously won a quintuple of trophies in UAE domestic rugby history.

Quins started the search for silverware by lifting the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League trophy by beating Dubai Exiles and Sri Lanka’s Kandy in pre-season.

They added the Dubai Sevens title in December – claiming that accolade for a third-straight year. The West Asia Premiership crown was earned in February and Quins beat Bahrain last week to be crowned West Asia Cup winners.

Adding a fifth honour would be a hugely impressive feat, given the rise in standards and player ability in the Emirates in recent seasons. With a 3-0 record over Dragons this season, however, flanker Ben Bolger insists Quins will be disappointed to fall at the final hurdle.

“It’s the last one. (A chance to win) five out of five. It will be special occasion for the club. Dragons are a good team so we’ll look forward to it, but I think we’ll be disappointed if we don’t do it,” said Quins’ heartbeat.

“We’ve beaten Dragons three times already this season so if we go down there and don’t come away with the win we’ll only have ourselves to blame.”

The Premiership showdown is the jewel in the crown of the inaugural UAE Rugby Finals Day, with the UAE Conference Top 6 and Bottom 5 and Community League finals all being played on the same day, at the same venue.

Quins have teams in three finals and McFarlane is dreaming of a special day for the whole club, saying: “It’s time for the boys to step up one more time and leave everything on the pitch.”

Quins beat Dragons by a solitary point in their opening bout of the season, a 31-30 epic in the West Asia Premiership in November. It was a rather more straightforward 47-7 triumph in February – a result that confirmed them as Premiership champions.

Their third victory was perhaps the most impressive of the lot, battling back from having a man sent off to triumph 23-14 in the West Asia Cup semi-finals.

Powerhouse hooker Gio Fourie will be key for Dragons

Powerhouse hooker Gio Fourie will be key for Dragons

Despite their seeming inferiority complex when it comes to Quins, coach Henry Paul insists his players are determined to spoil their parade.

“Our boys are revved up and it’s great to get another shot at Quins who deserve a big pat on the back for their successful season,” said the former New Zealand rugby league and England union international.

“It will be a hard fought game I’m sure, there’s a lot riding on it for them going for a clean sweep, and I’m sure we’ll give them our best shot and give a good account of ourselves.”

His enthusiasm is shared by prop and director of rugby, Paul Hart, who feels Dragons are due a win.

“As a team and club we are very excited to compete for a title,” said the UAE international.

“We feel we are not fair off clicking and producing a strong performance. Quins are on fire so it’s another perfect chance to test ourselves and the boys are pumped, even an old boy like me. It’s a final so let’s see what happens.”

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Louie Tonkin proud of players and insists the future is bright for Bahrain

Matt Jones 3/04/2017
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Louie Tonkin says Bahrain's players have put pride back into the Bahrain jersey

Louie Tonkin claims his Bahrain players restored pride to the jersey with a hugely impressive 2016/17 season, which culminated in defeat to rampant Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the West Asia Cup final on Friday.

Bahrain have lived in neighbours Doha’s shadow for many years, but following an improved showing 12 months ago, stormed into contention for silverware under the stewardship of Welshman Tonkin.

Bahrain finished third in the West Asia Premiership behind Quins and Doha and then beat Alex Natera’s men in Qatar two weeks ago to set up the final clash with Quins.

They pushed Mike McFarlane’s men mightily close at Quins’ Zayed Sports City home on Friday, eventually going down 31-25.

And while his players were left hurting following a bitter end to the campaign, the former Pontypool and Carmarthen Quins coach insists he feels nothing but “massive pride” for his charges.

“Obviously we’re disappointed to lose. You don’t come to the final to lose but I said to the boys, it’s not just about winning and losing, it’s the pride we’ve put back into the jersey this year,” said Tonkin, 34.

“The fact we’re even here is a great achievement and it’s just the start of the journey for us. I told the guys that.

“We were dominant for half an hour and then the last 10 (of the first half) we gave them momentum and they scored, which was a turning point. We showed in patches how good we can be and I just think we needed that for longer periods.

“It’s been the story of the season, exceptional in short periods. And we’ve done that and wiped the floor with teams. There’s been good games and bad games, but that needs to be the standard for longer periods. This is where we want to be now, fighting for these cups.”

And while the pain of defeat will linger, Tonkin is excited by the future for the club – having made a final despite only being in charge of the club for eight months.

“We’re only going to get better,” he added.

It’s the first year of our project. We want to keep that group together and get better. We’ve had a really abnormal season with injuries and the character of the boys has been exceptional.

“To score those two late tries at the end was fantastic. We were three scores down and scored 12 points in the final five minutes. It showed tremendous character and summed up our season. We’ll make that group a lot stronger next season.

“Hopefully next year we can be fighting for home draws. We’ve had two tough final games, away at Doha and at Quins, and we almost made it. But I’m happy for the boys, very proud and it’s just the start of the journey for us.

“I’m disappointed for the guys as they’re hurting but I’ve had a great time here so far, I’m loving it and it’s just the start.”

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McFarlane insists Harlequins won't let standards slip

Matt Jones 2/04/2017
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Quins celebrate claiming the West Asia Cup

Mike McFarlane insists his players won’t let their standards drop as Abu Dhabi Harlequins go in search of the quintuple and a perfect season.

Quins lifted a fourth crown of an immense 2016/17 on Friday as they became West Asia Cup champions following a 31-25 victory over battling Bahrain in Abu Dhabi.

And they have the chance to cap a dream campaign when they meet Jebel Ali Dragons with the UAE Premiership title on the line at Dubai Sports City this Friday.

“The boys will not let standards and expectations drop. They set the bar,” McFarlane said after his side completed the quadruple, with the Cup following glory in the West Asia Premiership, Dubai Sevens and Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League.

“Quins have got a massive history and I doubt anyone has won four and certainly not five trophies. A fifth would be great but we need to take a minute to celebrate this.

“Getting a fourth is unprecedented. It’s some effort, given the caliber of teams. It’s not a mickey mouse league, we’re playing some top teams.

“Look at (neighbours Abu Dhabi) Saracens. We beat them by two points. OK the second game was a bigger score but they’ve been taking points off everyone, and they finished bottom. It just shows the standard. So to win four is a great effort.”

In the end the scoreline flattered Bahrain as Louie Tonkin’s visitors scored two tries in the final two minutes to reduce the winning margin to six.

But Quins only led by three with 15 minutes left having been dominated by the visitors in an under par first half – despite the fact they were level at the interval thanks to Luke Stevenson’s try minutes before the break.

But McFarlane said there was never a concern his side could not turn on the style.

He added: “We always set ourselves high standards. I think if any other team had put in that performance they would have thought ‘we’ve done alright here at 10-10’, but we were gutted.

“The boys are honest with themselves and we were all 6 out of 10 and that’s not good enough. I said in the circle only come out if you’re going to be 9 out of 10 by the end of the game, and they all stepped up. They ran themselves into the wall and that’s all you can expect.

“I think there’s been one game this season where I’ve had to give them a kick up the arse. They know themselves and that’s where you get performances like that.

“I knew there was more to come, 100 per cent. We didn’t get out of second gear, I don’t think we were ever under threat really. The defensive work really paid off.

“We were a bit naïve and clumsy at time, chucking away ball, and that’s unlike us, but it was our focus in the second half. We tightened the game up, developed a few more phases and we were a much better team.”

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