Close calls as Mike Phillips' reign at Jebel Ali Dragons gets off to winning start

Matt Jones - Editor 17:46 22/09/2018
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Canes were defeated in another epic clash by Dragons (Pic by Sam Wainwright)

There wasn’t much to choose between the sides on the opening day of the West Asia Premiership, with just 23 points separating six teams across three matches.

Champions Jebel Ali Dragons got off to a winning start in a close game with Dubai Exiles at The Sevens, earning a 20-14 victory. Bahrain posted the biggest win of the day, triumphing 24-14 in Abu Dhabi against Harlequins.

Elsewhere, a converted try separated Dubai Hurricanes and Eagles, with Canes just about holding on to a 20-13 success against a side who played the majority of the game with 14 men.

“It was good to grind out a win,” Dragons skipper Ross Samson said of his side’s triumph, with his team being victorious on former Wales and British & Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips’ first game in charge.

“It was a typical first game of the season, with lots of things for both teams to go away and work on, so we aren’t getting too carried away.”

Quins coach Mike McFarlane bemoaned his side’s profligacy in the capital as they missed 14 points from the tee in defeat to Bahrain, who had won last week against his side to lift the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League title.

“It was another one we let get away,” said McFarlane.

“But positives to come from it. We had 14 points missed off the boot and uncharacteristic spills after excellent continuity, really it was the ruthlessness and execution in their 22 that let us down.

“There’s lots of positives to come out of the game and although we’re disappointed we will bottle it up and be raring to go next week after a great week of training.”

At Dubai Sports City, hosts Eagles saw Number 8 Trae Gosling sent off after just 10 minutes when he was dismissed for a punch. Nevertheless, they dug in and pushed Canes all the way before going down 20-13.

“We’ve come a hell of a long way since last season,” said captain Conor Coakley.

“We’ll learn from our mistakes this weekend and I still believe we’ll be challenging the top teams this season.

“It was a closely fought game, not much between the teams. They were able to capitalise on our mistakes, execute their moves and finish. Our guys are disappointed.

“We didn’t do ourselves any favours having a man sent off 10 minutes into the game. We dug deep, in particular our new recruits. Jamie Frost at hooker and Harrison Astley had great performances.

“We’re looking to some of our senior players now to step up in the coming games because we have some big challenges ahead.”

The result was the same as in the West Asia Trophy final at the end of the season, which Canes won 31-22. Their coach Mike Wernham was frustrated by a dogged Eagles defence, although he was ultimately satisfied as a late rally from the hosts almost cost them victory.

“I think for both teams it was a brilliant start. It was a real battle,” said Wernham.

“The scoreline was a kind one for us. We were frustrated with the amount of possession we had early in the game, we weren’t able to turn it into points. We had the ball in the right areas and plenty of opportunities but for some reason we were a bit off.

“But as I told the guys it’s the first game of the season, a lot of them haven’t played a proper game in a while and they’re getting used to new teammates etc so mistakes were bound to come in.

“Hopefully we’ll address them in the week and fix them for a massive derby game against Exiles next week who are going to be coming in cheesed off after losing narrowly to Dragons.

“Credit to Eagles they’ve improved, especially physically. It was a humdinger of a game and we just managed to hold on. Our character really came through in the end and we managed to get the win. It’s a great start to the season.”

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