Eddie Walsh expects a much closer affair when his Abu Dhabi Harlequins meet Jebel Ali Dragons in the Community League final on Friday
Quins thrashed Ian Jones’ side 72-24 in October but Walsh predicts one score will settle the final, to be played at Dubai Sports City.
“They’ve turned their season around so we’re expecting a different beast this time around,” said the Quins coach.
“I think their pride will still be hurt from that game and they’ll come at us all guns blazing.”
Defeat to Quins proved to be the only defeat of the season for Dragons, who went on to win their other seven games as they finished top of the pile, one point ahead of Quins.
Walsh, whose side also lost once too, a 7-5 defeat to Dubai Wasps 2nds, added: “Earlier in the season we played a bit of a weakened Dragons and won 72-24. It was second or third game and we ended up playing without front rows so I don’t think that was a true reflection of Dragons, it was just an aberration.
“I can’t imagine there’ll be more than one score in the game. But we have confidence and we’re looking forward to playing these guys.”
Walsh revealed he and his players had not believed they would be playing for silverware at the start of the campaign, but said his charges are chomping at the bit for the final having played just twice in 2017.
“The guys are over the moon. We haven’t had a game in a few weeks and only played twice since Christmas so there’s a lot of pent up frustration, everyone’s amped for the final,” he said.
“We started off as a developmental, social team, and I don’t think at the start of the season anyone would have envisioned us making a final, let alone having three teams in a final. What’s happened this year is simply unbelievable.”
Jones, meanwhile, is hoping Dragons can go one better after losing at the same stage last year to Beaver Nomads.
“The boys are full of confidence and the energy in camp this week has been great,” said Jones.
“We are expecting a hard game against Quins but hope to do our club and sponsors proud by starting the day off with a win. Dragons are really excited to be in the final and make up for the disappointing loss last year to Beavers.”
Al Ain Amblers hope to complete a miraculous turnaround by lifting the UAE Conference crown when they meet Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the Top 6 final tomorrow (Friday).
Amblers’ 2016/17 season started disastrously when the senior side withdrew from the UAE Premiership after just one game in September with rivals ravaging them of their star players during the summer.
They fielded just one team in the Conference and their turnaround following an undercooked start there – in addition to their Premiership nightmare – will surely go down as the biggest feel-good story of the season.
“For me the final is deserved with what we’ve been through,” said Amblers’ director of rugby Rocco De Bruyn, who stepped into the coaching void when initial incumbent Niekie van Blerk returned to South Africa following a job offer.
“It’s a big surprise, it was not expected at all. I was hoping to win a few games to get the spirit and morale up but the winning culture has gone from strength to strength and the boys are playing their best.”
Despite three opening defeats in the Conference, things started to pick up for Al Ain and they won five of their next seven, with a final day 63-10 mauling of Abu Dhabi Saracens 2nds seeing De Bruyn’s boys scrape into the Top 6 reckoning thanks to a superior points tally over Heratbeat Tigers.
There the Garden City side flourished, finishing top with four wins and just one loss – including victories over early-season pacesetters Dubai Exiles 2nds and Jebel Ali Dragons 2nds.
In fact their only defeat was in their last game – a 34-33 loss to tomorrow’s final opponents Quins.
Although they have lost star names like Esekaia Dranibota and Emosi Ratuvecanaua to Quins, Sakiusa Naisau to Dragons and Jerry Kilicanasau to Exiles, De Bruyn insists the club’s famous spirit remains.
“Nothing has changed. We lost all those players at the start and a few boys have since gone, so we don’t have individuals as strong as we did but we have a great team spirit,” added the South African.
“Things are good at the club and the guys are in good spirits. I don’t think there’s a coach who doesn’t want to be in a final. Our short term goal was to reach the Top 6 which we just did and once there obviously we wanted to go for the final.”
De Bruyn has been in the UAE for a decade and has been on the Amblers’ board for five years. And although he has only served as an assistant coach to the club’s under-14 side previously, he said it was the right thing to do take the reins once Van Blerk departed.
He added: “Niekie went back to South Africa as he got a good job offer and his family were still back there too, he’s got two sons 10 and 12 so dad needed to be there, so he had to make the call. Family comes first.
“We needed to find a new coach but instead of that I said I’d step in and do what I could for the rest of the season, and the guys have really stepped up.
“I’ve not coached since I’ve been here for 10 years, but it helps that the guys have been willing and enthusiastic.”
Quins finished six points adrift of Amblers in second, but with many of the team having pushed for first team places throughout the campaign, coach Mike McFarlane is expecting them to provide stern opponents.
“The quality of the twos team is incredible,” he said.
“Week in, week out we have 50 plus lads pushing for spots in the first and the second team with boys still missing out.
“This a deserved final for the endless hours of hard work they’ve put in since pre-season. The twos play some fantastic rugby and will take it to Al Ain this weekend in the final.”
In the Bottom 5 final, meanwhile, Dubai Sharks face Heartbeat Tigers for a chance to salvage some silverware from the 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.
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.”