Jacques Benade led Exiles to the Premiership, as well as the West Asia Championship in his debut campaign in 2015/16. But the shine was taken off that in a below par second year as they meekly surrendered both titles, with Quins romping to a brilliant quintuple.
But this significant triumph at Dubai Sports City proved Exiles are back.
Quins had claimed the inaugural UAE Premiership Cup last month with a tense 28-25 triumph over Exiles, but Benade’s men stormed to a win in Friday’s final with a controlled performance – adding the trophy to their Dubai Sevens title to win a second double in three seasons.
They were in the ascendancy from the start, Namibian scrum-half Carel Thomas sniping over after taking a quick tap penalty.
Durandt Gerber converted and made it 10-0 with a penalty before Quins reduced the deficit with a try converted by Luke Stevenson.
Exiles kept their foot on Quins’ throat and their powerful pack forced Mike McFarlane’s men to concede a penalty try minutes later.
Jaen Botes was sent to the sin bin shortly after but Gerber extended the lead to 20-7. A big moment arrived just before the interval when McFarlane’s men were held up over the Exiles line, but when they were given a penalty for a high tackle, they were penalised for holding on after kicking for the corner and Exiles cleared their lines.
Botes returned but was replaced in the bin by Thomas early in the second period for a high tackle and Quins took full advantage as Barry Dwyer went over out wide – Stevenson missed a difficult conversion and the gap was now just eight.
But Quins were then reduced to 14 themselves and from there on out the men in black kept Quins at bay, thanks to an assured kicking performance from Gerber.
Gloss was added late on as first Kristian Stinson went over for a game-clinching score in his final Exiles appearance, before the brilliant Thomas chased Botes’ kick and forced a mistake from the full-back to dive over at the death to hand the title to Exiles on a silver platter.
It was a battling performance from Exiles, who had been beaten 47-25 in the West Asia Cup final by Bahrain a few weeks ago, but Stinson said their display in the final game of the season was a performance that had been coming.
“Today was the performance we were threatening all season so we’re delighted we could do it on the big stage,” said the Northern Irishman.
“From the double two years ago to the double this year, picking up the two biggest trophies in UAE rugby, the Sevens and the Premiership, we’re delighted.
“We’re still gutted about the West Asia Premiership and Cup but fair play to Dragons and Bahrain, they deserved that and you can’t take that away from them.
“But to finish top of the log in the UAE and pick up the final is testament to the boys and their doggedness all season. I am so pleased for the boys, the coaches and especially Durandt for steering the ship all season.
“There were some boys injured today such as Danny Waddy and Kookies (Lehan Koekemoer) and they have to be congratulated too as they were huge this season and a huge part of what we achieved, so it was great we could win it for them. A real team effort.
“And a nice way for me, Liam (Andrews) and Kris Hughes to sign off from Exiles rugby.
“Four finals, two trophies, not a bad season for a team that were last year called “also rans”. You have to applaud the squad, the management and the back room staff including our awesome physio Chris Page for that.”
It was agony for Wanderers – champions of the Conference two seasons ago – who had missed a penalty just a few minutes earlier that would have seen them win a second title in three years.
As it was, Shane Thornton’s Tigers went up the other end of the pitch, with a deep kick from defence deceiving Sharjah’s full-back and gifting Tigers an attacking platform. They took full advantage to storm over the whitewash soon after to send the team and fans into rapture.
“It was brutal,” said Sharjah chairman Shane Breen.
“Missing a kick to win it and then losing is tough but fair play to Tigers, they were great.”
It was a fitting finale for one of the UAE’s youngest clubs, who were only established in 2014, while playing against one of the country’s oldest teams in Sharjah – set up in 1977.
It had been a pulsating final against two teams who could not be separated all season. Both teams had finished the campaign on 41 points, and the final proved to be a mirror image.
Tigers led 20-13 late on but a try in the final minutes from Sharjah brought them back within two points, with the conversion coolly slotted to send the game to extra time.
From there it was not to be though for Wanderers – who won their title against Jebel Ali Dragons in similarly nervy fashion in 2015/16 – scoring a last gasp try to win 27-26.
Last year’s final was also a nail-biter as Abu Dhabi Harlequins 2nds beat Al Ain Amblers with a golden score in extra time.
In the Conference Bottom 4 final, meanwhile, between last season’s Top 6 finalists, Amblers gained a little slice of revenge as they beat Quins 24-16.
Elsewhere on Friday, Mike Ballard praised his battling Abu Dhabi Harlequins 3rds side as they exorcised the demons of a year ago to beat Jebel Ali Dragons 3rds and lift the UAE Community League title.
Victory was down to the flair of a pair of Quins’ Frenchmen as Gwennael Pettilat bagged a late winning try, while Alexandre De Sambucy also crossed the whitewash.
De Sambucy touched down in the first half, with Joao Guerrierio converting. He then added a penalty before Pettilat scored in the 70th minute, either side of Charles Abban and Ian Overton scoring to level the game for Dragons.
Ballard said: “The boys battled. It really epitomised club rugby, having teenagers playing alongside vets and everyone in between.
“I don’t think a training session went by without somebody mentioning the Dragons. They are a strong club, and we knew that the title was going to go through Jebel Ali.
“The boys are going to be talking about this one for a long time. The Dragons put out a strong side and it was a very physical game, but our boys didn’t give an inch.
“Above all, it was a great day for the club. A lot of our guys coach in the junior section, so they were here at 08:00 winning championships with the Under-9s and Under-11s, and then they came out and got one for themselves.”
Sharjah Wanderers will get the chance to celebrate their 40th anniversary in style by trying to lift a second UAE Conference title in three seasons on Friday.
Wanderers won one of the most epic finals Gulf rugby has ever produced two years ago when they came from being 16 points adrift to slay Jebel Ali Dragons with a try beyond the 80th minute from Dave Bracken to claim a memorable 27-26 triumph.
After a barren defence of their Conference title in 2016/17, Sharjah have surged back into the final in 2017/18, where they take on Dubai Tigers at Dubai Sports City on Friday.
Sharjah chairman Shane Breen said: “We’re back in the final again which is fantastic, especially as it’s our 40th anniversary and the boys couldn’t be more excited. To top off the anniversary year with a trophy would be great, but there’s 80 minutes of rugby to get through first.”
Wanderers, one of the oldest clubs in the Gulf, celebrated their landmark 40th year at the start of the season.
But in Tigers – formerly Heartbeat Tigers – they will come up against one of the UAE’s newest clubs, formed only in 2014 by Shane Thornton.
After winning the Conference’s Bottom 5 final 12 months ago, Tigers have surged to the top of the second tier’s standings this season.
Judging by the 41 points both teams earned in a tightly-packed top of the table though – Tigers finished first by way of a better head to head – Friday’s final should be closely fought.
And despite having the years of experience and a recent trophy to their name, Sharjah are taking nothing for granted.
“Tigers and ourselves finished up first and second in the league so it’s going to be a great competitive game on Friday and we know they’ll be highly motivated to win,” said Breen, 31, whose family is originally from Norhtern Ireland but he has spent his entire life in the UAE.
“Tigers have proved this season they’re a serious team and have put in some big results. We got one over them in the first round and they beat us the last time we played so we’re pretty evenly matched.”
Although they have fared far better the season following the one immediately after their title triumph, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Sharjah.
Breen added: “This season has tested the character of our squad in many ways. With lots of injuries, boys have had to step in and we’ve pulled off some great wins which has helped galvanise the team. We’re back to full strength this weekend and looking forward to taking to the field.”
Tigers and Wanderers kick-off at 15:00 at Dubai Sports City on Friday.