Kristian Stinson has described the Dubai derby with Hurricanes as a “do or die” game for Exiles’ West Asia Premiership title hopes as they search for a win that will throw them right into the talk for the title.
After starting the season with a huge win against new boys Dubai Eagles and a 40-7 mauling of their fierce foes Canes a week later, Exiles suffered three defeats on the bounce to leave them hanging onto the coattails of the leading trio, Abu Dhabi Harlequins, Jebel Ali Dragons and Bahrain.
But back to back victories, coupled with the top three all squaring off against one another in three tantalising January weeks, has allowed Exiles to sneak back into contention.
Jacques Benade’s side won against Eagles last week to leap above Bahrain – on a bye week – into third place. And they could go one point behind leaders Dragons and climb above Quins if Mike McFarlane’s men lose at home to Bahrain.
“It’s a big game for both clubs, do or die in many respects,” said prop Stinson, who is set to face his former side tomorrow at The Sevens.
“If we win then we are right back in the mix contending on all fronts, if we lose then it’s probably curtains for any realistic title aspirations, similarly for the Canes.”
Despite a rousing 76-3 hammering of Eagles a week ago, Stinson says everyone at Exiles is aware they will need to raise their game for their big rivals.
“Last week was a good run out for it first game for two months, but it was pretty poor and we weren’t happy at all, especially with the first 30 minutes. This week is a totally different challenge and we won’t get away with being as poor as we were in the those first 30.”
Luke Bertini is likely to push for a place on the bench and full-back Thinus Steyn may come back into the squad, plus lock Stephen Ferguson is fighting hard for a start, but Exiles have been rocked by losing another lock last week to an ACL injury, Kris Hughes, the Scotsman a popular figure around the club.
Stinson, whose side’s average start to the campaign was boosted by claiming a first Dubai Sevens title in 11 years last month, added: “It’s been a bit stop-start all year for us, the fixtures and how things are done really need to be looked at, to go three full months with no 15’s or any competitive rugby for some of the big boys is poor, I just hope it doesn’t affect us on Friday and we go in rusty.
“Saying that, now that we are back playing again, the intensity has been lifted and our sights have been refocused. The Sevens taught us something, you never know what could happen.”
Canes coach Mike Wernham is another man aware of how a win against Exiles will change things for them in terms of league ambitions for the rest of the season.
Canes, in fifth, are seven points adrift of Bahrain and could count themselves as potential dark horses with victory.
“Dave Knight, our captain, said it in training on Monday. It’s Exiles and it doesn’t get much bigger,” said Wernham.
“We know how important this game is in terms of league positioning. Earlier in the season they gave us a good kick-in. That defeat hurt us and we want to give a much better account of ourselves this time.
“It means an awful lot to our guys who have been playing for Canes for a lot longer than most of their side have, we’re ready to go.”
Number 8 Nick Beaumont is out with an ankle injury suffered against Sarries last week, and Andrew Powell is unavailable with work commitments.
The other game of the weekend is an equally intriguing prospect, as the two bottom sides meet at Al Ghazal.
Hosts Sarries will be out for revenge, having handed Eagles their first win as a club in September. The 17-11 victory at Dubai Sports City came in what was Eagles’ second-ever match.
They have lost every other game, while Sarries are still winless, so something has to give.
“I think like most teams at this stage, we are missing a few players but we have focused a lot on up-skilling players from the seconds and we have no doubt they will be up to the challenge at the weekend,” said Sarries skipper Jonny Taylor.
“We should be very close to the same team that ran out against the Canes last weekend.”
It’s been a tough campaign for Sarries, who began it without a home after Al Ghazal Golf Club closed. But they returned to their fortress just before Christmas while off-field issues appear to now be in order too.
“Everything has been going really well now in terms of building,” said Taylor, who was upset his side were forced to forfeit their fixture with Exiles two weeks ago.
“We just had too many front rowers out or away. It was horrible to forfeit but we couldn’t start Conference front rowers, some are still learning the game, against a Premiership team.”
Eagles can draw on their memories from the reverse fixture, though fly-half Sean Carey is taking nothing for granted.
Eagles have UAE international Josh Ives back, as well as Trey Gosling.
“Two star players are back, so that’s not a bad place to start from last week,” said the Irishman.
“We’re not taking anything for granted. We know Sarries will be making this a big one for their club, they’ll want to make a point they’re still a club to be reckoned with.
“It wasn’t a walk in the park for Canes last week (Sarries lost to Canes 31-5). We’re going out there to win, a second of the season, it will be all guns blazing for both sides. I think it’ll be a great match.”
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