Although it’s early in the West Asia Premiership season it seems it could be make or break for Dubai Exiles and Jebel Ali Dragons who clash in Dubai on Friday.
Champions Dragons have lost two of their three games, while Exiles have three wins from two. Both are off the pace being set at the top by leaders Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Bahrain, a point behind, in second.
It’s a shot at redemption for Exiles, beating 20-14 on opening night by the champions, who have since floundered.
“It’s a big game for both teams, but it’s only the start of round two, so there’s still a long way to go,” said Exiles coach Jacques Benade.
Scrum-half Ed Armitage believes the winner of this tussle will receive a huge boost as they are likely to make ground on whoever loses the top of the table clash between Quins and Bahrain.
“I think both us and Dragons are looking for consistency and a bit of confidence,” said the Yorkshireman.
“The loser of this game could see their season disappear in front of them.
“We have no big names back from injury which is a blow. Matt Mills is back from holiday which boosts our back row. But losing Peter Killian last week was huge, we’re going to need a massive effort from the pack this week.
“We made too many simple handling errors last week which gave Quins so much possession. We played some good rugby but for too little periods. If we can extend those periods we’ll put teams under pressure.”
In the other game of the weekend, Dubai Eagles will hope to get a maiden win of 2018/19 when they travel to The Sevens to take on Dubai Hurricanes.
A host of players were unavailable for last week’s 31-14 loss to Dragons, but Isaac Porter returns and is eyeing a maiden win of the season following five straight defeats.
“It’s a massive game this weekend. We have a very positive mindset going into it,” said the Irishman, who will hope for a better result after an opening day 20-13 defeat to Canes.
“I felt we let the game slip away the first time we played them. I was missing myself last week so I’m looking forward to playing this weekend. We see this as a must win game.”
After Canes lost skipper Dave Knight on the eve of the season, stand-in captain Mark Weissenborn has now also been lost for the entire campaign after tearing his hamstring in Bahrain.
“We had an extremely disappointing run-out in Bahrain last weekend where we got blown away in the first half,” said the South African, whose side lost 45-15.
“In the second half we were much better but our set-piece was very poor. So that’s what we’ve worked on this week and the boys are excited to fix it against the Eagles.
“After beating Dragons in the third week we started really well against Quins away but let that game slip coupled with the Bahrain loss, we really need to get back to winning ways.
“Unfortunately I’ve had a potential season ending injury in Bahrain, so Andrew Powell takes over the captaincy from me for the rest of the season.”
West Asia Premiership fixtures:
19:00 Bahrain v Abu Dhabi Harlequins
19:00 Jebel Ali Dragons v Dubai Exiles
19:00 Dubai Hurricanes v Dubai Eagles
Maro Itoje is willing to do whatever it takes to help England topple South Africa as he defends the mock try celebration that divided opinion in the game.
Itoje will line up in Eddie Jones’ pack for the autumn opener at Twickenham on Saturday as the countdown to the 2019 World Cup begins in earnest.
The Saracens lock captured headlines on October 14 when he taunted Glasgow’s players as they celebrated a try that was disallowed.
It was an incident that was condemned as disrespectful by some, while others viewed it as adding to the entertainment value of the occasion.
“When I play rugby I go out there to do whatever I can to help my team win,” Itoje said.
Reflecting on the mock celebration, Itoje added: “That just happened, it’s not as if I went into the game to celebrate like that. Everyone are entitled to their opinions.
“It just happened, but most of my energy is doing what I perceive my role to be in order to get a positive result for the team. And that is where most of my energy will be geared towards.”
Itoje’s Saracens and British and Irish Lions team-mate Jamie George started all three Tests in the 2-1 series defeat by the Springboks in June and knows what is coming at Twickenham on Saturday.
“I’d say it’s pretty full-on, especially against South Africa,” George said.
“They’re such a physical team from one to 15 – no matter who they pick they pride themselves on that.
“We’re very aware of that and we’re also aware that our intent can never be questioned. We’re going to go out there and rip into it and put our physical stamp on the game.
“We’re very aware that we want to start with a bang. We’re aware of what previous results are, but don’t think of it as putting more pressure on us.”
Dubai Exiles coach Jacques Benade admits things have not gone his side’s way in the early part of the new season – but he is not making any excuses for their patchy start.
Exiles – UAE Premiership and Dubai Sevens champions last term – occupy third spot in the West Asia Premiership and with only Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Bahrain five and four points ahead of them respectively, things could be worse.
A narrow 20-14 defeat to out of sorts champions Jebel Ali Dragons on opening night was followed by three wins on the trot – including a home victory over Bahrain – but they crashed to a 44-20 defeat by Quins at The Sevens last Friday.
A lengthy injury list and several absences haven’t helped Benade’s cause, but the South African is refusing to take the easy way out.
“It’s been a difficult season so far with the amount of injuries and players again not available due to work commitments, but we just need to work hard and stay positive,” said Benade.
“I don’t think the holiday/half term was good for us but no excuses. Harlequins were just better on the day last week.
“Quins were strong in the set-piece and put us under pressure. The backs just had a terrible first 20 minutes in that we just couldn’t hold on to the ball. Silly, basic errors in catching and passing, silly offloads and just not being patient enough to play another phase and get Quins to make some tackles.
“At 17-6 down with a minute to go before a very poor first half ended I thought we were still good enough to come back in the second but another error, turnover and a seven pointer to go in at half-time 24-6 down was just too big a gap to chase down.
“We played better rugby in the second half and kept the ball better and scored a brilliant try to make it 34-20 and push for a bonus point. It was not to be as we again forced an offload and Quins scored from the turnover to finish off 44-20.”
Quins overcame their own opening day defeat to reel off four straight wins to sit top of the pile. Exiles head to Jebel Ali this weekend, hoping for revenge against the champions, while they will be keeping one eye on events in Bahrain, who host Quins.
“We let ourselves down last week and are all very disappointed in our effort,” added Benade.
“Some new boys are progressing and getting better every week but it is a big two weeks coming up against Dragons and Canes. A big week this week in training for us.”
Exiles were believed to have had as many as 11 regulars out against Quins, but Benade is hopeful he will have a full complement of players by the turn of the year – with four more games to come before Christmas, including this weekend.