Abu Dhabi Harlequins shared 68 points with Bahrain as Mike McFarlane’s men got their Western Clubs Champions League defence off to a winning start – just about.
Quins were 15-0 down inside 20 minutes before piling on 31 unanswered points to surge into the ascendancy – although the visitors’ own comeback saw them cross for three tries inside the final 10 minutes to ensure a tense ending of a thrilling spectacle Quins won 36-32.
The scoreline somewhat flattered Louie Tonkin’s visitors, who ended strongly as the hosts took their foot off the peddle.
Quins proved there is always another talented star ready to step into the limelight with this win – with Mike McFarlane’s men now travelling to Sri Lanka to take on Kandy next Friday.
Key players have departed Quins over the summer but the 2017/18 generation showed the Zayed Sports City men will still be the team to beat this season.
Craig Nutt proved what a valuable asset he will be as the powerful prop was part of a dominant Quins pack that bulldozed their way to victory.
So often slick operators in the back division, Quins have rarely been known to bully opposing forward departments in Gulf rugby, but scrum after scrum last night they pulverised their opponents.
There were key contributions off the bench from Courtney Raymond, Harry Skelton and Joe Teasdale, which new arrival Nutt says proves there is plenty of talent at the club.
“It’s nice to have a bench with an impact that we’ve got,” said the Welshman, who arrived from capital city rivals Saracens this summer.
“It’s a big squad and a big effort. We were training last Monday and had two sides playing against each other as well as 25 boys training behind the pitch, and then the thirds and fourths on a different field.
“It’s a great ethos and something all the boys are buying into. Hats off to everyone who’s trained over the summer.
“They’ve lost two centres and a flanker who let’s be honest were right up there with the best in the league. We’ve got big shoes to fill but it’s all about winning. It was said we might have a slow start but deep down we know we’ve trained hard all summer and are expecting to win.”
Bahrain coach Tonkin said there were plenty of positives to take but lamented a 40-minute period in the middle of the game where his side shipped 31 unanswered points.
“I’m gutted. The middle patch of the game we were really bad,” he said.
“We were dominant for the first 20 minutes. The drinks break killed our momentum and we imploded for 40 minutes. We thought it was conditioning to start off with but then we dominated the last 20 again so it wasn’t that.
“To concede 31 points in the middle 40 minutes is destroying and you can’t do that.”
Luke Stevenson passed on the first opportunity to open the scoring when he nudged a 40 metre penalty just wide, and after that it was Tonkin’s troops who took the game by the scruff of the neck.
After both teams threw away possession at least twice, Bahrain capitolised when skipper Adam Wallace cut a great line to sell his marker and he accelerated to the line for first blood.
They were almost in again following a bit of quick thinking at a lineout from hooker Lindsey Gibson, but his forward pass halted the move. Quins scrum-half Andrew Semple was sent to the bin for using foul language to the touch judge who he deemed had incorrectly allowed play to carry on when Gibson was not five metres from touch when receiving the ball.
It went from bad to worse when Bahrain did indeed score again. Ollie Luke’s fine cross-field kick bounced kindly for winger Greg Heath who beat Emosi Ratuvecanaua to the line with his searing pace.
That was the key for the hosts to kick into gear and they were in front 17-15 at half-time thanks to a 10-minute points frenzy. First they were awarded a penalty try when the referee had seen Bahrain collapse one too many scrums close to their own line.
Stevenson reduced the gap with a penalty and then finished off a bout of pressure with a try which leveled the scores – his conversion put his side ahead for the first time.
They started the second half just as they’d ended the first, scoring two tries to put themselves firmly in the driving seat.
First Barry Dwyer fed Tom Brown who went over in the corner, although the referee awarded a second penalty try for a reckless tackle. After more intense pressure lively substitute Joe Teasdale somehow touched down in the corner despite immense effort from Luke to force him out.
Stevenson was now in the groove and nailed a brilliant touchline conversion to take Quins into a commanding 31-15 lead.
Tonkin emptied his bench as Bahrain looked to mount a fightback – and Iwan Phillips began one with 10 minutes remaining when he fought through a couple of tackles to crash over in the corner to give his side hope at 31-20.
Quins seemingly dashed their hopes once and for all when Semple created space to dart over to make it a 16-point game.
But back came Bahrain with the try of the game. Phillips started it and Luke and Rob Bennett combined beautifully to send Wallace over for his second score to give the away side a consolatory score.
They were gifted another beyond 80 minutes when Quins failed to tap before kicking the ball out to end the game. Instead they rushed their own lineout and Elliot Behan stole it to touch down for a fifth Bahrain try.
Radley’s conversion dropped just short as a pulsating game reached its breathless crescendo.