Abu Dhabi Harlequins started their season in fine style with a comprehensive bonus point victory over Dubai Hurricanes.
Mike McFarlane’s men were clinical as they ran in five tries to begin their assault on silverware in the perfect manner.
Livewire winger Barry Dwyer added to his burgeoning reputation with two tries while a few new signings caught the eye, especially former Al Ain winger Emosi Ratuvecanaua and flanker Patrick Jenkinson.
Quins opened the try tally after 20 minutes through Esekaia Dranibota, another acquisition from Amblers, who drove to the line, taking several tacklers with him. Ratuvecanaua then charged through the Canes defence to set up fellow wideman Dwyer for a simple score.
Quins were awarded a penalty try early in the second half when Jenkinson was unceremoniously hauled out of play by his neck, and they had a bonus point eight minutes later with the try of the game.
The move was started by the mercurial Ben Bolger in the shadow of his own posts. He charged forward and fed Jenkinson, who advanced into Canes territory before offloading to Conan Osborne, who had the legs to get to the line despite a fantastic effort from James Curran.
Dwyer got a simple second before Canes, deservedly, got on the board through skipper Dave Knight after great work from Andy Powell.
“It was a fantastic start, we couldn’t have asked for anything better than a bonus point win,” said veteran Quins prop Chris Jones Griffiths. “There’s still lots to improve on but we’re happy with the win.”
Knight was able to collect positives in the defeat, saying: “There were signs. We hung in there, but they’re clinical and you have to take your hats off to them. “They’re the team to beat.”
There were winning starts for Bahrain and Abu Dhabi Saracens on the opening night in the two West Asia Premiership matches where all four teams had new coaches.
It was a rough start for former dual code international star Henry Paul as his Jebel Ali Dragons took the lead in Bahrain before going down to a heavy 51-10 defeat as their new coach Louie Tonkin got off to the perfect start.
The visitors led early on thanks to a converted try but the hosts hit back with two scores to lead 20-7 at the interval.
They cut loose in the second half in front of a buoyant home crowd, scoring four more tries as Welshman Tonkin’s reign got off to the best possible start.
Sarries, meanwhile, picked up maximum points from their trip to the Garden City as they returned to the capital with a 45-3 victory against Al Ain Amblers.
It was a fine start for Winston Cowie in charge of Sarries in Al Ain as Niekie Van Blerk’s men were brushed aside. Cowie’s men had a bonus point in the bag before the break with South African flanker Jonny Taylor going over for a brace of tries in the first half, including the opener.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins twice had to settle for being bridesmaids last season as Dubai Exiles took top honours in Gulf rugby.
Quins retained their Dubai Sevens title in December to pick up the first piece of silverware of the season but then had to settle for second place in both the West Asia Championship and UAE Premiership as Exiles took a seat back at Middle East rugby’s top table.
Quins pushed Exiles all the way in the battle for Premiership and Asia glory and are determined to go one better this season.
Mike McFarlane’s men drew first blood earlier this month when they lifted the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League title, and McFarlane and his men open their campaign at Dubai Hurricanes tomorrow.
“I’m more than satisfied with pre-season. The lads are hungry and there’s a real competition for places,” said McFarlane.
“The standard of the squad throughout in its depth is exciting for the rest of the season. Training and game days have been intense.
“These boys are super coachable, not just super talented, and that’s exciting for me. The whole changing room is full of winners.”
Quins and Exiles played out an exciting 23-23 draw in the Champions League meeting, an indicator that the rivalry that blew up last season could be even closer this year.
McFarlane’s team won the title by virtue of a bigger win over Sri Lankans Kandy than Jacque Benade’s champions.
Canes, meanwhile, have a new skipper in Dave Knight, who is relishing such a tough fixture to open the new campaign.
“We’ve got Quins first so the schedule could have been kinder but it works both ways,” said the UAE international ahead of the season opener at The Sevens.
“They’re the team to beat having just won the Asia competition. On the other hand it might be good to play them early. It will let us know where we’re at and give us an idea of what we need to work on to get where we want to be by the end of the season.”
Canes signed a partnership with their Super Rugby namesake in the summer, while a new coaching structure has been set up, giving Canes a lot of stability.
Pre-season has gone well and Knight admits he is “itching” to get back out on the field.
“We can’t wait to get back playing, it’s been a long break. Everyone’s really up for it,” he said.
“We’ve got a few players still away from Eid but I think you’ll see our team getting stronger as the season goes on. We’re not as strong as we could be but pre-season has been really good so we’ll see.
“We have got stronger with the coaching structure which has helped a lot and, again, is something that will be more beneficial as the season goes on.”