Gulf rugby's modern classic returns as Jebel Ali Dragons host Abu Dhabi Harlequins

Matt Jones - Editor 20:43 26/09/2018
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Jebel Ali Dragons are the team to beat in 2018/19.

It’s only the second week of the season but already one of the most explosive rivalries in Gulf rugby is being renewed on Friday as West Asia Premiership champions Jebel Ali Dragons welcome Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

The pair always tend to put on exhilarating encounters – typified by last season’s 34-33 win for Quins on the 2017/18’s opening night in September 2017.

The return tie in Abu Dhabi in January was equally tense, as Dragons earned a 20-17 win.

Added fuel is poured onto the fire by the fact Dragons won the Premiership last season – a first title in four years – by ripping it away from Quins on the final day following a warrior-like bonus-point win in Bahrain.

And after a close set of results in week one, Dragons chairman Stuart Quinn feels they reflect how close the competition will be once again this season.

“They beat us at home last year so we’d like to get that monkey off our back,” said Quinn.

Louie Tonkin is not underestimating visiting Dubai Eagles.

Louie Tonkin is not underestimating visiting Dubai Eagles.

“The results last week show that I think the league will be closer than ever this year and it’ll depend on who’s done the most work at the start of the season and who’s most clinical. We have set ourselves very high standards this year, so the pressure is on.”

Quins coach Mike McFarlane has overseen his side becoming UAE rugby’s dominant force during his four-year tenure. He is, however, going into his fourth season under more pressure than ever before with just two minor trophies claimed last term and a depleted squad taking on Dragons, Dubai Exiles and Bahrain sides only getting stronger.

“We’ve had two games now with a lot of positives to take and I’m really happy with the work rate, ambition and reflection of the players in wanting to improve targeted areas of development,” said McFarlane, whose side lost 24-14 at home to Bahrain on opening day.

“As ever we have challenges with personnel and availability but we’ve had a good week of prep and are looking forward to another challenging game where we look to execute our game plan.”

Bahrain are at home to much-improved Dubai Eagles on Friday – their 14 men put up a terrific effort a week ago, beaten just 20-13 by Dubai Hurricanes, despite having a man sent off after just 10 minutes.

Bahrain coach Louie Tonkin is taking nothing for granted ahead of Eagles’ second trip to his small corner of west Asia.

“Eagles are a bit of an unknown quantity,” said the Welshman.

“We heard it was a hard-fought encounter with Hurricanes last week and they ran them close with only 14 men and we know Canes are stronger this year. We are expecting a really tough contest and we’re approaching it the same way as if we were playing Quins, Dragons or Exiles.”

Elsewhere on Friday, it’s a Dubai derby at The Sevens as Hurricanes host Exiles.

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