Louie Tonkin was honest in his assessment after seeing his side play their first competitive game of the new season – improved but still room for improvement.
Bahrain were scintillating for 40 minutes – going ahead 15-0 at Zayed Sports City, the home of the dominant force in Gulf rugby, while rallying with three tries in the final 10 minutes to give Mike McFarlane’s men a scare as they edged a 36-32 victory.
The worrying problem was in the middle 40 minutes of the game they conceded 31 unanswered points to the resurgent and rampant hosts.
In truth the margin of defeat slightly flattered the visitors and Welshman Tonkin admitted the four-point gap is indicative of where the two sides are.
“It’s a reality check I think because everyone’s raving about how good we’re going to be this year, apart from us,” said the 34-year-old.
“And we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to improve mentally and fix mistakes which costs us last year. We have to tighten up on our set-piece and basic skills. That’s the biggest thing.
“We’ve got a more talented squad this year without question, with the additions and everyone coming back from injury. We have just got to make sure we focus on things that build a rugby match.”
Quins grew into the game after falling behind, with their pack possessing much greater physicality than in previous seasons – the additions of props Murray Reason and Craig Nutt from city rivals Saracens has helped there.
They were still irrisistable at times going forward to, with scrum-half Andrew Semple, fly-half Luke Stevenson, returning winger Chris Marshall and full-back Tom Brown all prominent.
They’ve lost key players Brian Geraghty, Willie Umu and Patrick Jenkinson, but the performances of Joe Tisdale, Courtney Raymond and Harry Skelton will have impressed coach McFarlane. And Tonkin said Quins’ performance proves they’re ready for the new season.
“The game also shows how good they’ll be again. They were deserved winners,” he added.
“There were loads of new faces in their squad. You can see they’re a very different side. They’ve got a lot more physicality. Big carriers and playing a tighter game and obviously they merge that with width too.
“They dominated the set piece which shows they’ve also improved massively. They’re going to be a real force again.
“We’ve got them first game of the season at home in three weeks so that will be a real measure of where we are.
“We’ll both play full strength sides so it will be a more relative and accurate reading of how competitive we’re going to be this year against each other.”
Tonkin admitted there were plenty of positives for him to take out of the performance too, with new additions Iwan Phillips, Jonathan Kenny and David Evans impressing, while Number 8 Elliot Behan was brilliant after missing his entire debut season with injury.
“We’re got a lot of threats, we just need to get basics right,” said Tonkin.
“Iwan, Dai and Kenny did well, Dai had a try. Iwan made a couple of line breaks, Elliot Behan, our No 8 who’d been out for 18 months, had a brilliant game, making line breaks and dummies and they’ll help us make big strides.
“But the scrum was dominated for 50 minutes and we made some mistakes and went inside ourselves. We need to manage the game mentally.
“It was exactly the same in the West Asia Cup final. We were 12-0 up then one mistake and we imploded mentally so we have to work on our mental skills. There were some massive positives too, we were excellent for the first and last 20 minutes, some of our defensive stuff was superb.”
The UAE Under-17s rounded off the Asia Rugby U17 Sevens tournament with a morale-boosting win against Uzbekistan to finish ninth out of 10 teams in Chinese Taipei.
Apollo Perelini’s young all-Emirati team endured a difficult first day in Tainan, losing all three Pool A fixtures by a combined 114-14 margin. They lost their final group match 67-0 at the hands of Malaysia yesterday morning to put themselves in the 9th/10th placed play-off – but they at least ended on a high with a fine 21-7 defeat of the Uzbeks.
Saif Al Jnebibi, Nawaf Al Nuaimi and Nayef Al Nuaimi were the UAE’s tryscorers. Asia powerhouse Japan went on to lift the trophy with a comprehensive 43-0 triumph over Thailand.
It was an eye-opening experience for the UAE teenagers but one Perelini hopes they will gain confidence from.
“It gives them encouragement because they need more tournaments to build that understanding of rugby,” said the former dual code international.
“And when you get that win under your belt as a group of Emiratis it just builds more confidence in them. We look to build on this squad with future development and entering other tournaments.
“Keeping them will be the issue because national service will break this squad up next year.”
Dubai Eagles got a little taste of what awaits them in the West Asia and UAE Premiership this season with a chastening defeat at the hands of Jebel Ali Dragons on Friday – but director of rugby Sean Carey was performed of how the newly-formed club performed.
Eagles flew into action for the first time at Dragonsfest – a day of celebration for Dragons who turn 25 in 2017/18.
All three of their sides were in action – with Eagles scorched 59-5 by Henry Paul’s men.
Scrum-half Josh Ives touched down for the very first Dubai Eagles try and Carey is not focusing too much on the defeat – but how Eagles get off the ground from here.
“Things are going well. Numbers are looking good and training is going great,” said an upbeat Carey, the team’s founder.
“We’re building nicely for the season. We were really happy to get the first game under belt. It was a first experience of Premiership rugby for a lot of our players and Dragons are looking very strong for the new season, so I didn’t think we did too bad.
“For some parts of the game we looked threatening. We weren’t expecting the guys to light up the world but I’m really proud of how they performed on the night and I think a lot of that credit goes to Pat (coach Pat Benson) and the structures he’s trying to play. We’re looking forward to September 22 (opening game of the season versus Dubai Exiles). It will be a good occasion and we get to have a go at the Exiles.”
Eagles’ introduction to the league has been met largely with skepticism from other clubs, with the belief that the club is a short-term project thought up by Dubai Sports City without much planning for the future.
But Eagles are certainly planning on sticking around – with the club’s mini and youth section established this week.
Carey added: “Every week it seems to be growing and the standard is growing. We just launched our mini and youth section too so that’s looking pretty good and the inquiries are flowing in, and we’re hoping that will grow too.”