Jebel Ali Dragons will technically move into pole position for the West Asia Premiership title on Friday with a bonus point win over rivals Dubai Hurricanes.
A win for Jonny MacDonald and Andy Buist’s men at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence will lift them above Abu Dhabi Harlequins, who climbed back to the top following a convincing 80-0 hammering of city rivals Saracens on Thursday night.
Mike McFarlane’s men are three points ahead but have played a game more, so a maximum win for Dragons will see them go back to the top by two points.
If all goes to plan, then the battle for the title will come down to the final weekend of the season next Friday and all eyes will be on Bahrain as they host Dragons.
Quins end their season in Dubai at rock-bottom Eagles, where they will be expected to get a bonus point win. If that happens and Dragons win this Friday, only a win will do in Bahrain. A win alone will likely see them and Quins finish level at the top of the table, with a bonus point victory likely to see them crowned champions.
Quins lost 37-30 at Dubai Exiles a week ago but a penalty in the final minute earned them a losing bonus point, which added to their try-scoring bonus point in the same game, looks like it will play a vital role in the destiny of the title.
There’s still a lot of rugby left to play though and, for now, Dragons are just concentrating on Canes.
“I hope it’s blue skies and sun for us and rain for anyone else who’s playing and needs wins,” said Dragons skipper Ross Samson ahead of the Canes clash.
“It’s a local derby for us, Canes are a great bunch of boys and we always have good games against them. We just want to keep playing our brand of rugby as we are having loads of fun doing it.”
Canes know they have already secured fifth spot and coach Mike Wernham says they will try and see out the season in as professional a manner as possible.
“Complete the fixture list and continue to play with pride, that’s our aim,” said Wernham.
“We’re hoping for a good performance after narrowly losing at home with such a strong start from us. It’s the last couple of games now and we want to finish the season on a high.
“We will hope to catch Dragons off guard but know they have a lot of quality in their side. We have a couple of weeks off before the Trophy final so will be holding nothing back.”
Exiles have a bye this week and will hope to crash the title party next week when they end their season at Sarries, although the best they can hope for is a likely home West Asia Cup semi-final by finishing second.
Bahrain will go a point behind Quins with a bonus point win over Eagles at Dubai Sports City on Friday, although they too will likely be scrapping for a home semi-final even if they score maximum victories in their final two games – the last one at home to Dragons next week.
“All we can concentrate on is controlling our controllables,” said coach Louie Tonkin, whose side are currently fourth but with games in hand.
“We can’t have any control on any of the other results, it’s out of our hands so all we can focus on is performing as well as we can and get the results we can and seeing where that puts us at the end of the season.
“We respect Eagles. They came to us before Christmas and ran us close so it won’t be an easy game. We’re going to their place so we know it’ll be a tough game. But we have to go there with the mindset of getting maximum points.”
Fixtures – Friday 19:00
Dubai Eagles v Bahrain
Jebel Ali Dragons v Dubai Hurricanes
Result – Thursday
Abu Dhabi Harlequins 80 Abu Dhabi Saracens 0
West Asia Premiership table
Team P W L D PF PA BP Pts
AD Quins 11 8 2 1 464 181 8 42
JA Dragons 10 8 2 0 391 156 7 39
Dubai Exiles 11 7 4 0 398 162 10 38
Bahrain 10 7 2 1 332 149 6 36
Dubai Hurricanes 11 4 7 0 224 332 4 20
AD Saracens 11 1 9 0 70 508 1 5
Dubai Eagles 10 1 9 0 93 488 1 5
Dubai Exiles Under-18s girls blitzed their opponents by a combined score of 131-79 on a successful three-game tour of the UK earlier this month.
After a highly successful 2016/17 season which included a fixture with Surrey school SGS Filton who toured Dubai, Exiles decided to test their skills against the best available teams in Britain.
Girls rugby in Dubai is rapidly growing but the base of players and clubs is still relatively low so the club predominantly play sevens. On tour, however, Andy Williams’ side decided to play 10s.
Working with a local tour company, Exiles got in touch with schools and clubs from across the UK, requesting strong opposition to benchmark themselves, and UAE girls rugby in general, against the best teams available.
Cobham Rugby Club in Surrey has one of the strongest girl’s sections in the South East and Bristol-based SGS Filton is widely regarded as one of the top UK specialist sports schools, with a strong girls’ rugby heritage.
Nelson, near Cardiff, also includes a number of U18 Welsh players and is considered one of the strongest girls’ club teams in the country.
Having lost to Filton on their tour of Dubai last year, Exiles knew they had set themselves a tough schedule, but the girls committed hard to training and focused on skills development and building a superior level of fitness in preparation.
Weather was a major factor on the tour, with temperatures dropping to as low as three degrees at kick-off. The first game was an evening kick-off, made more challenging by the overnight flight.
The girls landed at 07:30 on Friday, February 9, and played 12 hours later. Understandably, they endured a slow start and conceded an early try, but quickly established themselves with a couple of quick scores.
From that moment on they dominated the game, only conceding tries to Cobham’s play-making No12. They eventually ran out 49-24 winners which was fully representative of Exiles’ control of the match.
It gave the girls belief as they headed to Bristol for what was expected to be the toughest game on tour on February 12.
Filton is a dedicated sports academy based in Bristol, which selects girls specifically for rugby and were previously unbeaten in both 15s and Sevens this season, only losing last season in the final of the Rosslyn Park 7s.
Exiles knew that they would be physical and direct and true to form they started very fast. The game was played over 3x 20-minute periods and after 17 minutes Exiles were 19-0 down.
Their first try, however, seemed to change the game and Exiles’ superior fitness then started to show and, coupled with an increasingly physical defense, they started to dominate.
Injuries eventually led to the game reverting to a sevens format and that further played to the UAE side’s strengths. In a barnstorming game, Exiles came back to win 55-38.
On to Cardiff for a Valentine’s Day clash with Nelson, where the weather conditions worsened still. Thankfully, the game was played on a 4G pitch.
A very physical Nelson team were well organised and exploited Exiles’ handling errors in the rain to score first, but once again the visitors settled into a rhythm with some excellent defence and counter-attacking rugby. The conditions made scoring more difficult, but Exiles eased to a 27-17 win.
Head coach Williams said: “This was the first overseas tour by a girl’s rugby team in Dubai and our aim was to test ourselves and see how we compared to the best available teams in the UK.
“To remain unbeaten against sides of this quality was truly amazing and I could not be prouder of the girls.”
Captain Chloe Williams added: “This past week of rugby has been the most challenging and rewarding experience our team has ever faced.
“As captain I could not be prouder of this talented squad of girls and everything that we achieved on our tour of the UK. Hopefully this success will inspire more girls in Dubai to take up rugby and go on more tours in the future.”
Dubai Exiles 49 Cobham 24
Dubai Exiles 55 SGS Filton 38
Dubai Exiles 27 Nelson 17
Dubai Exiles U18 Girls squad:
Mahia Alfereti, Sammie Dronfield, Hannah Ferguson, Celine Sloan, Michaela Warr, Alexandra Kane, Sophie Shamsuddin, Chloe Williams (C), Caitlin Erlank, Elka MacKinnon, Nada Manni, Asia Stevens, Shauna Clune, Lucy Yendall, Sophie Milward
For all the twists and turns of the 2017/18 season so far, victory for Quins would likely have handed the reigning champions their trophy back – with city rivals Saracens and rock bottom Dubai Eagles their final two opponents.
Instead, Exiles roared to a 37-30 win at The Sevens – although a last-gasp penalty from the visitors secured them a losing bonus point, which means they picked up two as they also scored four tries, so Mike McFarlane’s men are still probably favourites.
Bonus-point wins for the other two title challengers – Jebel Ali Dragons put Sarries to the sword with an 80-0 demolition while Bahrain blitzed Dubai Hurricanes 59-21 – have seen the top four bunched incredibly tightly, just three points separating them all.
And while the others have two games remaining, Exiles only have one. But Jacques Benade’s side can at least be content with securing their place in the UAE Premiership final – Dragons and Quins scrapping to face them.
Big wins this year against Dragons and now Quins have seen Exiles shine when it has mattered. Prop Kristian Stinson insisted their resurgence was sparked by their Dubai Sevens-victory over Dragons in December.
“It all comes back to the Sevens. We win that then boys start getting on and the wins have been through teamwork,” said the Northern Irish prop.
“We lost a lot of games by a few points and now we’re winning them and puling each other through. We’ve gone from last year’s laughing stock to winning the Sevens, being in two finals and claiming a top four spot – so it’s some turnaround.”
As well as making the UAE Premiership final, Exiles secured a berth in the West Asia Cup final a few weeks ago – where they will play Quins – and Friday’s win ensures they could possibly end the season with four trophies.
And it was down to Stinson and his fellow forwards as to why four trophies remains a possibility.
“The forwards stepped up and dominated their pack,” said Stinson, whose team led 24-10 at the break.
It could have been 31-5 had they finished off a move while camped on Quins’ line. But they threw the opportunity away and Quins ran the length of the field to close the gap to 14 points and put the pressure on.
“We went in as underdogs. We haven’t had a good record against them at all recently but I think that gave us motivation,” said Stinson, who was thankful Quins fly-half Luke Stevenson suffered a rare off day.
“They came back into it but Luke missed a lot of kicks, which is very unlike him, (scrum-half Andrew) Semple took over. Then in the second half we were grinding in defence. It was feisty. It was some game. They weren’t at the races first half.”
One forward in-particular who had an impact for Exiles was second row Thomas Sackmann. He scored two tries as an auxiliary winger, after full-back Thinus Steyn pulled out before kick-off with injury.
Dubai Exiles 37 Abu Dhabi Harlequins 30
Jebel Ali Dragons 80 Abu Dhabi Saracens 0
Bahrain 59 Dubai Hurricanes 21