Dubai Exiles head into tomorrow’s final Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League fixture knowing exactly what they need to do against Kandy – but prop Kristian Stinson doesn’t necessarily believe that is an advantage.
Exiles played out a exciting 23-23 draw in the opening game of the tournament with UAE rivals Abu Dhabi Harlequins at The Sevens last Friday.
Fly-half Durandt Gerber’s late penalty rescued Exiles after three points from the boot of counterpart Luke Stevenson with time ticking down looked like it had snatched victory for the men from the capital.
Quins crushed Kandy 56-17 at Zayed Sports City on Tuesday evening, throwing down the gauntlet to Jacques Benade’s UAE Premiership and Wets Asia Championship-winning side.
Exiles know if they better that score they will pick up the first piece of silverware of the season, but Stinson says he and his team-mates need to focus.
“Knowing what we need to do is a bit of a double edged sword,” said the Northern Irishman, who was a key component of a squad that enjoyed a stellar 2015/16.
“In one sense it’s great to have a target but in another sense we can’t let chasing a score affect our structures and gameplan.
“We just have to turn up ready for a tough game as Kandy will throw everything at us, hopefully we win the game first and then let the rest of it takes care of itself.”
Under South African Benade, Exiles returned to domestic prominence last season. Quins took the first trophy of the season when they retained their Gulf Men’s League title at the Dubai Sevens in December.
But from January Exiles were virtually unstoppable, winning seven of eight WAC games on their way to the title. They only lost once in 10 Premiership matches to again finished ahead of runners-up Quins and claim the double.
A large part of their success was based on Benade being able to count on selecting a consistent 15.
Players like Stinson, Gerber, scrum-half Ed Armitage, flanker Matt Mills, second row Rhinus Bothma, winger Charlie Sargent and Number 8 and captain Glenn Moore hardly missed a minute.
They have recruited well over the summer though and Stinson claims he and every other player is aware they cannot take their place for granted.
“First and foremost the performance (against Kandy) will be the most important thing because there are a lot of guys pushing for a place for when the season starts.
“So each of us need to put in a good performance to put our hands up for selection and, in turn, that should lead to a good team performance.
“If we get a trophy at the end of it then that’s a nice bonus, but the important thing is putting In a good team performance.”
Mike McFarlane’s men were clinical and looked slick as they sauntered to victory over their Sri Lankan visitors at Zayed Sports City last night in their second game of the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League.
The title will now go down to Friday’s match at The Sevens, where Exiles will have to better Quins’ score to add the crown to their UAE Premiership and West Asia Championship haul of last season.
Kandy drew first blood when outside half Arshad Tamaldeen beautifully bisected the uprights after Quins had infringed in the 10th minute.
The hosts responded by scoring 49 points without reply, playing some free-flowing rugby despite the uncomfortably sticky conditions.
Livewire winger Barry Dwyer responded for Quins five minutes after going behind, brilliantly stepping his marker to go in under the posts for the game’s first try.
Just after half an hour, new signing Misinale Taukolo prosperered when he picked up a loose ball from a ruck to stroll over from close range with no Kandy defender in sight.
Dwyer had his second just before the break, again showing quick feet and elusive speed to scoot over out wide before touching down under the posts, Luke Stevenson adding his third conversion as Quins led 21-3 at the break.
Any hope of a Kandy comeback was extinguished in five second half minutes as Quins doubled their try count through three new faces.
Explosive centre Willie Umu set up former Al Ain Amblers winger Emosi Vecanuau before two more tries from flankers Patrick Jenkinson and Hayden Thompson Green put the hosts out of sight.
The impressive Jenkinson might have had a second but was called back for a forward pass, before a penalty try on the hour put Quins on the cusp of a half century of points.
Kandy, who had served notice of their intent throughout, deservedly got on the board after good defence and poor handling had threatened to leave them without a significant score.
Hooker Damith Dissanayaka finished off a good move before replacement Danushka Ranjajan showed searing pace to go under for a second minutes later, Tamaldeen converting both to give the scoreline a touch of respect at 49-17.
Quins had the last word with Number 8 Conor Canny finishing off a rolling maul in the last minute.
A job well done for Quins, who will now wait to see if it is enough with Kandy travelling to Dubai in two days’ time.
The inaugural tournament ended in farce a year ago when an ambulance was unavailable for a game between then West Asia Cup champions Abu Dhabi Saracens and Sri Lankan champions Kandy.
This year there are only three teams competing as the Kazakhstan representatives dropped out. Jalajel, however, believes these are teething problems any fledgling competition experiences.
“We appreciate it’s early days and it is in the infancy stage. it’s a work in progress. It’s educational and it will get there,” said Jalajel, Asia Rugby’s West Asia development consultant.
“Clubs and unions are interested and now we have some interest in the east of Asia. The vision is one day we’ll have a winner from here and the east playing in a big tournament.
Kandy, Doha and teams who played last year loved it and thought it was brilliant. Kandy are back so hopefully it will become something to aspire to be in.
“If you win the West Asia Premiership or get to the final you get a chance to compete against the best in Asia, which you want to do as a player and as a team.
“Some of the feedback we had was that timing could be different, maybe it’s a bit too early, we’re happy to look at it, but it’s something we need to grow and become one of our high performance competitions.
“Hopefully next year it will be in a better position and we’ll have a fourth team join us. It’s a step in the right direction.”