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.
Especially as they both appeared in the last two versions of the Top 6 final – with agonising defeat suffered by each.
Amblers lost a heartbreaker last year, going down 31-26 in extra-time to Abu Dhabi Harlequins 2nds, Kent Watene their hero after they had scored an equalising try right at the death following Epeli Davetawalu’s red card.
Similar woe befell Dragons 2nds two years earlier as they led for almost the entire game against Sharjah Wanderers before a try beyond 80 minutes saw them lose 27-26.
Dragons finished top of the bottom half of the pile in the UAE Conference, posting 39 points to earn a final shot, with Amblers eight points behind.
And now that they’re here, Dragons are determined to finish the job and win some silverware.
“We’ve been on a good run the past few weeks, all the boys are looking forward to the final and playing against a quality outfit in Al Ain, who were only narrowly beaten last year in the Top 6 final,” said Dragons skipper Jamie Lynch.
“It’s a one-off game with everything to play for. We’re certainly not looking at ourselves as favorites, Al Ain have a strong reputation for turning it on this time of the year so we will need to be at our best for the full 80 minutes.”
As he has done many times before, Amblers director of rugby Rocco De Bruyn is stepping in to take charge of the side from the Garden City for the final, with head coach Sean Emmett away in Australia.
He admits it’s been a bit of a slog this year, having appeared in the glamour Conference showpiece 12 months ago. But he is determined to finish on a high.
“It’s been a hard season with lots of new players and untimely injuries, especially to key positions,” said the South African.
“It was a slow start trying to find the correct combinations and game plan according to our strengths.
“We’re looking forward to Friday’s final, hoping that we will play against a legitimate second team from Dragons. If so, I think we will have a hard, yet entertaining, game.
“Our head coach, Sean Emmett, is currently in Australia so I had to step in (again) for the finals.
“Luckily the men have a good coaching team in Jakes Terblanche , Leon Bell and George Taunga that are a great help.
“Rugby is a funny game and there are no guarantees of an easy game or win, as we have seen lately in Super Rugby and the Six Nations, but I have faith in the boys and believe that we can be victorious on Friday.”