Abu Dhabi Harlequins maintained their electric run this season as they put Dubai Exiles to the sword with a commanding performance.
These two fought tooth and nail for honours last season but Exiles’ fall from grace continued as Quins ran in a half century of points on the home side, with Brian Geraghty, Barry Dwyer and Willie Umu all running in two tries each as Mike McFarlane’s men crossed eight times in all in a 53-17 romp.
It’s now seven wins and one draw from their eight games this season, and although they have been pushed close by Dubai Hurricanes and Bahrain in their last two games, this was supremely straightforward.
They even added two scores after Emosi Ratuvecanaua was red-carded for a crude tip-tackle on Exiles scrum-half Ed Armitage who grabbed both of his side’s tries.
After a couple of close calls in recent games, Geraghty was glad he and his fellow backs could display the full extent of their talents.
“We’re very happy with that performance,” said the Irishman.
“We’ve been grinding out results the last few weeks, I don’t think we got into third or fourth gear. We knew it was going to be a good test today but the forwards gave us a good platform and we showed how fluid we can be.”
Exiles, who have been a completely different team to the one that swept to the West Asia Premiership and UAE Premiership double 12 months ago, have been crippled by injuries this campaign.
Durandt Gerber played his seond game since dislocating a shoulder in the season opener, while Lukas Waddington and Michael Sole were both ruled out for the season on the ever of the match.
Coach Jacques Benade though wasn’t making any excuses.
“They’re a good side, you have to give them credit,” he said in defeat.
“They played excellent rugby and they’re magic with turnover ball. We played well for 30 minutes but we can’t keep the ball. We build pressure and give them a turnover. They build pressure and they score.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of effort, I just think Quins were just better than us, no doubt about it.”
Quins had a bonus point in the bag by the interval as they led 29-10.
Luke Stevenson strolled over early on and although Armitage scored the try of the game soon after when he latched onto Michael Stubbs’ chip over the defence, Umu sauntered over untouched to put the game beyond Benade’s boys.
Former Al Ain man Ratuvecanaua then got his marching orders but that didn’t slow Quins down one bit.
A handling error, an all too familiar sight in games this season, gifted Quins possession in Exiles territory and Dwyer completed his brace in the corner.
Exiles skipper Glenn Moore’s yellow card for a high tackle compounded their misery which was prolonged further when replacement George Phelan touched down out wide to take Quins over 50.
World Rugby’s new directives for punishing high tackles come into effect last week, increasing the severity of the punishment for reckless high tackles, whose minimum sanction is a yellow card and maximum a red, fortified with increases in the accompanying bans.
The force has certainly been felt locally. As the West Asia Premiership returned after a brief hiatus at the weekend, Bahrain held on for a crucial 22-19 victory at The Sevens after captain Adam Wallace was sent off for a dangerously high shoulder tackle late on.
In the UAE Conference clash between Dubai Wasps and Abu Dhabi Saracens 2nds, meanwhile, three players were dismissed by the referee – all for high tackles.
Although the majority of clubs and players understan
d the changes, the fact that rugby in the UAE is an amateur sport has them fearing for the future.
“I think that that theory behind the law is sensible and players need to look after each other on the pitch as head knocks are sadly becoming increasingly common in the game,” said Dragons skipper and scrum-half Ross Samson.
“We lost two players in the last two seasons to concussion issues – Taif Delamie (ex-captain) and Jonny MacDonald (now assistant coach) so we are more sympathetic to it than anyone.
“The risk for this league is that the playing base is relatively small and lengthy bans for a straight red card could seriously impact teams’ ability to field a competitive team.
“For example, the Bahrain captain got a red card at the weekend – which was probably a fair call if we go by the letter of the new directives but there was no malice or intent to hurt our player so I feel a six-week ban would be overkill and Bahrain could potentially be without their best player and captain for the rest of the season. For me the potential punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
“As players all we want is consistency from the referees week to week. Only time will tell but from the other captains’ feedback from the weekend some refs will be more willing to brandish the red card than others.”
For his part, Bahrain coach Louie Tonkin had no complaints with Wallace’s sending off.
He said: “The red was 100 per cent justified. With the new amendments to the law last week, it was 100 per cent a red card.”
Wasps had two players dismissed in their 24-5 defeat at Sarries, a result later changed to a 20-0 win in their favour due to Sarries fielding ineligible players.
And the new rules have them concerned.
Wasps chairman Ben Rothwell said: “Obviously we understand the pressure refs are coming under from UAE Rugby Federation and World Rugby but it’ll have a serious impact on the game out here as games will be reduced to ridiculous numbers.
Either side would have been worthy of victory at The Sevens last night in a free-flowing battle that swayed back and forth.
As it was, the 13-man visitors survived the late dismissal of their captain Adam Wallace to cling onto the narrowest of victories, 22-19, one which moves them above Dragons and into third place in the West Asia Premiership.
For impressive home fly-half Dan Bell, defeat was all the more excruciating as it came against his former team.
“It’s my old team and I’ve got a few mates there, so it’s even worse to lose, it’s a little harder to take,” he said.
“It was a good game but it’s not nice when you put all that effort in and come so close. The most frustrating thing was that it was so close and we played really well.
“There’s lots of positives we can take from today. We lost by three, we could easily have won by three. I think if either side had won there wouldn’t have been many complaints.”
Former team-mate Wallace, who otherwise had an outstanding game in the centre for Bahrain, was thankful his late shoulder tackle on flying UAE full-back Imad Reyal had no lasting consequence.
“I did think a little bit that I might have cost the team victory,” he said.
“I have faith in our pattern and structure though and we knew what we had to do to close it out, and we held on.”
Bahrain had blitzed Dragons 51-10 in the reverse fixture on the opening day of the season. No-one was expecting the same performance and it was the hosts who opened the scoring after 15 minutes in fine style.
Tenacious flanker Matt Henry did superbly to steal ball in midfield to set the platform. From there former Scotland 7s scrum-half Ross Samson jinked his way through the Bahrain defence, committed the last defender and sent Reyal strolling over.
It proved to be the game’s benchmark.
After the excellent Luke Radley reduced the arrears with a penalty, the visitors took the lead through Wallace’s try.
After fielding a clearance kick, winger Deina Morete launched a counter-attack, taking the ball from Wallace who continued his run and was on hand to take a return pass, and he had enough strength hold off a tackler to get to the line for a superb score. Radley brilliantly converted from the touchline.
Another fine counter saw Henry Paul’s side retake the lead minutes after the restart, Bell made the yards and offloaded to Sammy Ewing who streaked in, Bell’s excellent conversion making it 12-10 to the hosts.
The lead lasted just a few minutes though, Radley and Wallace again instrumental as Lewis Chance crossed the whitewash.
Powerful Dragons prop Dan Minks barged over in the 55th minute to give the game its fourth lead change as Paul’s men led 19-15.
Just as it looked like they might hold out, however, Dragons were cruelly slain. Their defence held out initially but an overlap eventually saw Arron Dalgarno burrow over with four minutes remaining.
Radley again knocked over a brilliant conversion to give Bahrain a three-point lead and there was plenty of time for more drama.
Wallace saw red while replacement Joel Lewis was also sin-binned. Dragons inched closer and closer into Bahrain territory but Louie Tonkin’s men defended for their lives, leaving their coach mightily relieved.
“I’m absolutely delighted with the win. We got let off the hook at the end. I thought they were going to steal it,” he said.
“If I didn’t have a bald head already, I’d have one now. The boys defended for their lives the last five minutes. It could have gone either way. I’m very happy with the boys’ character.”