New Dubai Hurricanes coach Mike Wernham is wary of traveling to face an in-form Bahrain on Friday but is hoping his side can build on plenty of positives from a narrow defeat to table-topping Abu Dhabi Harlequins last week.
Canes suffered a fifth defeat in seven West Asia Premiership matches at Zayed Sports City last week, but new man Wernham was pleased with what he saw from his new-look side in a 24-19 defeat.
“We’re really excited,” he said.
“We’ve had a good week of training. It will be a huge task, we’re under no illusions what’s coming our way from Bahrain. We know their result last week will give them confidence. Following on from our own result we’re looking for the next step forward.
“We’ve been focusing on counter attack, hoping to give us go forward ball in order to hit Bahrain hard.
“It’s always tough going away so the biggest focus is getting our mindset right before kick-off. If we have that and get the structures right we’re hoping to going to Bahrain and getting a result.”
After his 13 men held on for a thrilling 22-19 triumph at Jebel Ali Dragons last week, Bahrain coach Louie Tonkin is hoping his side can improve again.
“Hopefully we can take periods of good play last week against Dragons and make them longer this week and hopefully maintain our status,” said Tonkin, who is delighted that the visit of Canes sparks a sequence of four straight home games that he hopes his side can use to continue their momentum.
“It’s great to have a home game, the first of four in a row. We’ve been looking forward to this all season as we’ve played five away from seven so far, so we’re delighted to have a home game.
“We narrowly beat Canes away and they were under strength a bit that day so we’ve heard. They’re vastly improved and they will be strong, the Quins result shows that.
Luckless Sarries have lost four games by less than seven points this season, so their position in the table is a little misleading, although the visitors have only lost once in their last six encounters.
They are also the only side to take points off Abu Dhabi Harlequins – a 23-23 draw earned at Zayed Sports City in October.
Former Doha man Winston Cowie is counting on the fact that all the pressure in the capital will be on his old side.
“I think in the first half of the season our guys put too much expectation and pressure on themselves and we had a lot of unforced errors – which in tight games cost us,” said the New Zealander.
“We lost four games by seven points or less. The break was good for us. We have refocussed, the guys have trained hard so we are ready to go.
“Doha are a strong side and we are expecting another tight, physical match. The expectation this week is all on Doha. Our guys are pumped and ready to climb into it. It should be a cracker.”
Opposite number Alex Natera is not reading too much into Sarries’ position in the standings.
“I’m not looking forward to this one to be honest,” said Natera.
“We consider Saracens to be a very good side and we think they’ll shock a few sides in the second half of the draw. They had a great away win earlier against Bahrain and they have only dropped games by a few points.
“We are expecting a big test from them this week and I have been onto my boys to not get complacent.
“We are traveling with a strong team and we have had some boys returning from injury to start to give us some real depth in the squad.
“It’s a great sign when I have to leave players out of the match day 22 who would have been staters for me a couple months ago.
“Competition for places is heating up but what’s best is everyone just really wants to play for the club.”
It is “make or break” for beleaguered West Asia and UAE champions Dubai Exiles this weekend, according to head coach Jacques Benade.
And with their season on the line, the South African is hoping his side can finally rediscover their hunger in a clash with unbeaten Abu Dhabi Harlequins at The Sevens.
Exiles have simply failed to get going at all this season, their 42-16 thrashing at the hands of Doha last week sending them crashing to a fourth defeat from seven games.
Exiles can rely on the fact that with the new playoff system introduced for 2016/17 they do not have to finish first to win any silverware this season, but even hopes of a top four finish are starting to slip away after last week’s defeat in Doha.
It left them four points adrift of Jebel Ali Dragons in fourth but Benade is counting on the fact that Quins usually bring out the best in his side.
“We know what to expect from Quins and we will need to step up our work rate and stop them from getting front foot ball,” said Benade.
“I still believe they are the best team in the league and will be a massive test for us. We always play good rugby against Quins and let’s hope this is again a great advert for UAE rugby.”
Benade is at a loss to explain the champions’ poor form this season, but insists his side are better than what they have produced on the field so far.
“I think it is make or break for us this weekend,” he added.
“We need to step up as a team and improve our performance. We have been training really well the last two or three weeks but we can just not take that onto the pitch.
“Doha were just better in every aspect of the game and if we are going to let Quins dominate set piece, contact area, defense and that hunger that we miss so far this season, we are going to be in trouble.
“I know we are better than that and all I want from the players this weekend is for them to just go out and prove to themselves what they are capable of.”
Exiles’ plight isn’t helped by the fact that star centre Michael Sole has been ruled out for the season after suffering his third concussion of the term, while prop Lukas Waddington is also done as he needs a knee operation.
Fly-half Durandt Gerber will be back at 10 after returning last week and he is someone Quins coach Mike McFarlane will be wary of.
“The rivalry from last season continues between two high calibre clubs,” he said.
“With Gerber back at 10 I’d imagine they’ll have an improved distributor who will no doubt make a difference. That right there is a challenge for our back row.
“We weren’t completely happy with our performance last week and the players are looking for improved performances all round.
“The players set such high standards that sometimes they put themselves under unnecessary stress which we’ve discussed this week so we are looking to get back to enjoying our running rugby with a freedom to express ourselves in their own personal way.”