The sign on the door of the number two changing room at Dubai Sports City read ‘Welcome DSC Eagles’, and UAE rugby’s newest club might well feel like they truly arrived after recording the first win in their history on Friday night.
True, it was only their second game, so it’s not as if they’ve been waiting years for an elusive triumph. But many critics probably expected Dubai Eagles to go their maiden season without tasting victory – especially after they had their wings clipped on their competitive debut a week ago, thrashed 85-8 by Dubai Exiles.
Not captain Conor Coakley though, who got out of bed on the morning of the game believing his side were going to win. The Irishman’s eyes danced as he savoured his prediction coming true at the final whistle.
“Honestly, no,” said the flanker when asked if Eagles’ maiden win had come sooner than expected. It might not have been anticipated at all in their debut campaign by some within the club.
“I thought we’d get a win this season. After what I’ve seen over the last few weeks at training, the guys have a belief in what we’re doing. I got up this morning and I felt it. ‘Yeah, we’re gonna win’. And we’ll have more.
“It was gritty. It was tough up front. They have a very strong pack and it was physical, there was a lot of dog work. And I haven’t played 80 minutes of rugby in about two years, so I’m feeling it now.”
Victory for either side on Friday would have been hugely significant. Eagles were formed less than three months ago and held their first training session a little over six weeks ago – with seven attendees.
Sarries, meanwhile, may be a little older, they were formed in 2011. But it’s been a trying summer with the loss of their home ground. They don’t actually have a head coach either after Winston Cowie stepped down in the summer.
The New Zealander hasn’t defected to another club though, like many stars from previous years. He has work and family commitments keeping him busy but he will still feature as a player.
And the Kiwi, who plunged over the whitewash for Sarries’ only try, believes better is to come for a side which is determined to stay alive this season.
“It’s a game we should have won,” said Cowie, who earned his first UAE cap earlier this year.
“It was scrappy and I think the result shows we’re lacking a little bit of depth. But we had 15 players on the pitch and a full bench, we’ve got two teams playing this season. We’ve got a few boys who’ve put in a huge recruitment drive this summer and have really kept the club together.
“Perhaps we’re not there yet on the performances but we’ve got a bunch of guys here who enjoy playing rugby and like to play for each other, and hopefully the results will come.”
Although Sarries led a scrappy encounter just 3-0 at the break, it looked as if the result would have been theirs. Their scrum was dominant and centre Stephen Hamilton was clinical from the tee while Eagles’ kicker Sean Carey was wasteful when the opportunities came his way – the Irishman fluffed three attempts to level the scores.
Head coach Pat Benson must have delivered an inspiring team talk at the interval though as Eagles took flight as soon as the whistle went to signal the restart.
Just 26 seconds of the second period had passed before the game’s first try arrived – full-back Jamie Williams’ blistering run creating the space and Carey atoned for his earlier errors as he was on the shoulder to take the killer pass that sent him scurrying over for the opening try.
He converted from right in front to make it 7-3. There was barely time to blink before Eagles doubled their lead. And the same two combined to bamboozle Sarries. Williams again started the attack and cut through the defence before Carey was in the right place at the right time to once again go under the sticks. It was 14-3 and Eagles were beginning to flow forward with confidence.
But Sarries weathered the storm and reduced the gap when Cowie crashed over after a bout of pressure – Hamilton just wide with the conversion attempt.
Eagles were beginning to wilt in the humid conditions but the heat was also causing the visitors difficulties, with the ball being dropped like a bar of soap.
Carey and Hamilton exchanged penalties and Sarries’ chances of a comeback were dealt a blow when their influential director of rugby was harshly sin-binned for a high tackle.
Still, they had chances to find a killer score, but their attacks were thwarted by dropped passes or cheap penalties given away.
With a scrum awarded to Eagles near the Sarries line with the last play of the game signaled, scrum-half Josh Ives calmly fed the ball into the now dominant Eagles forwards and then passed to Tom Bright who kicked the ball into touch for a famous victory this fledgling Eagles family won’t forget in a hurry.