Dragons, synonymous with success in UAE rugby circles for so long, have fallen on hard times in recent years.
But Friday’s last four clash with old foes Abu Dhabi Harlequins is sure to stir memories of when the two were totems of UAE rugby, regularly meeting in significant games for silverware.
Dragons won back-to-back trebles of UAE Premiership, Dubai Sevens and Gulf Top 6 titles in 2012/13 and 2013/14 before the veneer of invincibility was slowly stripped away over the following two campaigns.
They are rebuilding impressively under former dual code rugby star Henry Paul though and a 29-12 defeat of Abu Dhabi Saracens last week confirmed a fourth-placed finish in the West Asia Premiership and a shot at Cup glory.
And director of rugby Hart claims they are fully deserving of that shot.
“We have beaten (Dubai) Exiles and Sarries twice each, put 40 on (Dubai) Hurricanes and led Quins for 100 minutes when the ref played a 107-minute game (Quins won 31-30 in November),” said Hart, also still playing at prop for Dragons.
“We led Doha twice until the last 10 minutes and led Bahrain until the final 10 minutes. Big losses to Bahrain and Quins away are the only nightmares although we played very badly in a loss to Canes too.
“So we are clearly the best team in Dubai according to league points and clearly deserve our place in both the UAE Premiership final and now West Asia Cup semi-finals.”
Dragons and Quins were also come face to face in the UAE Premiership final in April, with Dragons finishing second, 10 points ahead of Dubai Exiles, and Hart believes Dragons are the most improved side in the Gulf.
“I would say the season we’ve had is the largest improvement of all teams in the region,” he added.
“We were second by 10 clear points and into the UAE final too. After two disappointing years we deserve some credit for reaching the UAE Premiership final and West Asia semi.”
Quins are chasing the quintuple – hoping to add the West Asia Cup and UAE Premiership titles to their West Asia Premiership, Dubai Sevens and Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League crowns.
They’re also in ominous form, having thrashed fellow semi-finalists Bahrain 45-17 last Friday, while they torched Dragons 47-7 when the two sides met just four weeks ago.
Head coach Mike McFarlane, however, is not reading too much into that.
“It’s knockout rugby so it’s winner takes all and anything can happen,” he warned.
“It will be a cracking game as always. Dragons offer an attacking threat; one which has served them well this season. Henry has done a great job there after a few disappointing seasons and it’s good to get back the fierce rivalry between the clubs.
“The boys have come off two excellent wins versus Dragons and Bahrain now at home and will look to push hard again in the business end of the season.”
Confusion has reigned as the domestic rugby season reaches its climax in the UAE, but Dubai Hurricanes are buoyed by the fact there is still a trophy to play for before the dust settles on 2016/17.
They face Abu Dhabi Saracens at The Sevens tomorrow (Friday) with the winner going through to face Dubai Exiles next week in the West Asia Trophy final.
It hasn’t been an enjoyable season for either Canes, Sarries or Exiles, but Canes head coach Mike Wernham insists his side are determined to end with a flourish.
“We’re going to give it absolutely everything and hopefully we’ll be joining the Exiles in next week’s Trophy final,” said Wernham.
“The motivation is we definitely don’t want the season to end. We want to go out on a high and that’s beating Saracens this weekend and then Exiles next weekend.
“I was at the game last week between them (Saracens) and Dragons. They started really well and we knew we blew a big opportunity against them at their place. We know they’re physical and we have to nullify their eight and nine who work really well.”
Canes have been hit with several absentees as their squad is littered with teachers away for the school holidays, but Wernham insists this won’t prevent his side being competitive.
“Unfortunately having games during the holidays always hits us hard, with so many teachers in the squad,” he added.
“We’re a little bit hampered, although that’s not an excuse and we’re not the only club in this position. Hopefully with planning for next year, games will be kept away from school holidays.”
Such has been the confusion surrounding the climax of the domestic rugby season in the UAE, Canes skipper Dave Knight admitted he was surprised to find out there was still something to play for.
“We were a bit surprised when we found out that we had a game to be honest,” he said.
“Having spoke to the guys at Sarries they were also surprised about the game. Sarries are a good team and if you don’t show them the respect they deserve they will punish you.
“We’ve had two very close games with them this year and both were very physical. Both teams like to use their forwards so I’m sure it will be won and lost there.”
Sarries are also without a number of key players, with prop Craig Nutt revealing as many as 10 first team regulars are unavailable.
Fly-half Matt Hutchings, meanwhile, is just concentrating on taking the chance against Canes to end the season on a high.
“For us it’s about trying to go out and get a good performance after what has been a disappointing season in terms of results,” said the UAE international.
Alistair Hess’ “special” kick final gave Dubai Hurricanes victory at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Harlequins Junior Rugby Tournament yesterday after three successive final defeats.
Hess’ monstrous conversion of his own try from the touchline in a swirling wind saw Canes sweep to a dramatic 7-5 victory over tournament hosts Quins in the Under-15 boys’ section yesterday.
It was fourth time lucky for this group of players, who had tasted defeat in each of the last three editions of the tournament at U-12, U-13 and U-14 level.
After a scoreless first half it did not look good for Canes early on in the second period when James Wilson went over out wide to give Quins the lead, although a difficult conversion was off target.
Quins had brushed aside Doha 40-0 in the semi-final but this was a much tighter affair with both defences keeping each other at bay.
It was going to take something special to win it and that moment of magic came halfway through the second half when Canes launched a counter-attack from the shadow of their own posts, which zig-zagged across the pitch before being finished off in the corner by Hess.
Faced with a near-impossible angle, the 15-year-old sank the conversion to the delight of his team-mates. And, despite Quins hammering away for a winning score near the end, Canes held on for a momentous win.
“It’s a fabulous tournament, the organisation is faultless and it’s really good to finally win one,” said a relieved Canes team manager Douglas Wade.
“We’ve lost in the last three finals in a row, usually to Quins, in similar fashion. This group of players have lost at U-12, U-13s, U-14s so it’s really nice to get that monkey off our back.
“It’s really good to come down here and finally get the win. The boys deserve it, they’ve worked really hard this year, so we’re very proud.”
And Wade singled out star player Hess for praise.
“It was a monstrous kick. Alistair has had a great weekend, he’s been pretty talismanic for us and the rest of the boys backed him up. His kick was pretty special,” he said.