The UAE laboured to victory in their sole international fixture of the 2017/18 season, beating visiting Gibraltar 28-15 in Dubai on Friday night.
Apollo Perelini’s hosts always looked in control of the tourists, taking a lead inside the opening 10 minutes that they never really looked like relinquishing.
But they could never quite break free from spirited opponents, who hit back with two tries of their own, one in each half.
At the end of a grueling season, fatigue and increasingly warm weather conditions would not have suited either side at Dubai Sports City.
“The breakdown was a mess and therefore the game was stop-start, there were lots of turnovers and lots of mistakes from both teams.
“It was good to get the win but we could have played a lot better with the quality we have got in the squad.”
All four of the UAE’s tries were scored by their seven-strong Dubai Exiles contingent, with rampaging hooker Gio Fourie powering over early on, his try converted by Exiles colleague and former Italy ‘A’ fly-half Durandt Gerber – with both players also making their UAE bows.
Chuqi Cruz got Gibraltar on the board with a penalty to make it 7-3 before Exiles prop Lukas Waddington was penalised for holding on as the UAE looked likely to stretch their lead.
They did so a few minutes later with a second try, Gerber cutting a fine line to burst through under the posts and converting his effort to make it 14-3.
But the visitors reduced the deficit to four at the interval with a fine try of their own, flanker Mike Milward getting the score after a flowing move through the UAE midfield.
With energy levels sapped in the second half, there was plenty of industry without much end product. But Perelini’s men went 21-10 up when Number 8 Jaen Botes rumbled over, Gerber again potting the extras.
They saved the best for last when Thinus Steyn’s show and go out wide on the right following a turnover saw the Exiles full-back steam in from 70 yards inside the final 10 minutes, Gerber’s conversion making the game safe at 28-10.
But the men from the Rock had the final word when replacement Aidan Beazley touched down following a forward drive in the dying embers of the game.
That’s it now for the UAE and indeed the domestic rugby season, with the UAE Rugby Federation deciding not to participate in June’s Asia Rugby Championship Division I in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, there was an abrupt end to the final domestic tournament of the UAE rugby season, with the famous Sharjah 10s tournament called off after an RAK Rugby vets player was taken to hospital following an in-game injury on Friday.
The player reportedly had to be resuscitated after being knocked out, with organisers confirming the match was called off following the incident. Shane Breen, chairman of Sharjah Wanderers – tournament hosts – said: “There was a serious injury in a game played on pitch two and the player is currently in hospital and we’re waiting to hear back on his condition. We’re also awaiting an incident report from the referees who were present.”
Glasgow wing DTH van der Merwe admits form will count for nothing as Warriors look to re-assert their dominance over Edinburgh.
The tartan rivals go head-to-head at Murrayfield in the 1872 Cup decider on Saturday night, with the tie finely balanced at one win a piece.
Gunners head coach Richard Cockerill believes the showdown will establish whether his side really have overtaken their neighbours along the M8 after years in Glasgow’s shadow.
However, the clash also has ramifications for Edinburgh’s PRO14 play-off hopes.
While Warriors have already secured a home semi-final slot, Edinburgh still need to pick up a point to book their place in the quarter-finals.
But Van der Merwe is refusing to pay any attention to the standings after insisting the favourites tag does not apply when the two Scottish outfits collide.
He said: “People call it a friendly rivalry but when you’re out on the field it is all about winning.
“It’s mostly about Edinburgh and Glasgow – very little of it matters about the league, what position you’re in or what you have done in the games leading up to it.
“The standings don’t really matter – what does is beating the other side and lifting that trophy.
“It’s always a dog fight and form goes out the window. We’re just desperate to win.”
Van der Merwe rejoined Glasgow last month after two years away in Wales and England.
The Canadian international helped Warriors lift the PRO12 title in 2015 before repeating the act with Scarlets last year and admits the chance to saviour more major occasions was the main driving force behind his Scotstoun return.
The 31-year-old – who will make his 100th Glasgow appearance this weekend – said: “These 1872 Cup games always stuck out in the memory and I found them special to play in.
“You get an extra big crowd, there’s a bit more tension in the game and you get a bit of back-and-forth with the talking between the teams.
“I’m just so excited to be back involved again.
Glasgow Warriors confirm top try-scorer DTH van der Merwe has returned to the club, signing a deal to 2020. pic.twitter.com/9BA8KehY6h— Jamie Lyall (@JLyall93) March 15, 2018
“Getting the chance to play in these games and to be involved in a Grand Final was always in the back of my mind while deciding to come back here.
“Glasgow was the first club who I won anything big with and that was very special. I still believe we have an opportunity to do that again.
“When the chance came to come back, well I was always going to take it.
“I was here for six years the first time round and obviously had some ups and downs but the club retained faith in me and now I want to return the favour.”
With the final round of the PRO14 set for Saturday it seems the top six are locked in ahead of the playoffs.
In Conference A Glasgow Warriors have confirmed top spot and Munster will definitely finish second, while South Africa’s Cheetahs – in their first year in the competition – look set for the final playoff spot barring a shock loss to the Southern Kings.
If the Cheetahs somehow slipped to their South African compatriots the Kings, who are bottom of Conference B, it will open the door for the Cardiff Blues who would have to achieve a bonus point victory over the Ospreys and make up 23 points difference on the Bloemfontein side.
The situation is a little bit more open in Conference B where Leinster have wrapped up top spot and the Scarlets second, but Ulster could finish off a remarkable comeback if they defeat Munster with a bonus point at Thomond Park and Glasgow stop Edinburgh from getting a point at Murrayfield.
The Scottish result is possible but Ulster’s bonus point win at Thomond Park would be more unlikely.
Here is your Ulster team for tomorrow's huge game 👇 pic.twitter.com/npPNEONkTe— Ulster Rugby (@UlsterRugby) April 27, 2018
Ulster coach Jono Gibbes is keeping his hopes alive.
“It’s just good to be alive in the last game, to be honest,” Gibbes said.
“We have that, we had no margin of error and we managed to fight and scratch our way through and get ourselves in a position to put pressure on Edinburgh.”
He fully understands however the task facing his team.
“Anyone who’s ever been down there and played a Munster team down there at Thomond, you certainly do not go down there with a mindset of getting four tries against them easily at all,” Gibbes admitted.
“They’re a formidable opponent, a proud team down there and whoever pulls on that red jersey down there… it’s a big challenge for us.
“You know, we had to regroup a little after Saturday (when they defeated Glasgow 36-15), get a bit of energy back and save it up because it will be ferocious for sure on Saturday (against Munster).”
Barring some miracle results, the first week of the playoffs shape us as the Scarlets hosting the Cheetahs and Munster hosting Edinburgh.
Glasgow and Leinster would lie in wait to face the winners in the semi-finals the following weekend.
In other matches this weekend the impressive Benetton face Zebre hoping to rack up their 12th win of the season, Dragons host playoff bound Scarlets and Connacht will be playing for pride against a much-changed Leinster, resting their top players ahead of their Champions Cup final in Bilbao on May 12th.
Fixtures (UAE Times)
Saturday April 28th
17:00 Southern Kings v Cheetahs
18:05 Connacht v Leinster
18:05 Dragons v Scarlets
20:35 Cardiff Blues v Ospreys
20:35 Munster v Ulster
20:00 Benetton v Zebre
22:45 Edinburgh v Glasgow