Jebel Ali Dragons re-ignited their season with a thrilling 49-34 over Dubai Hurricanes on Thursday.
The reigning West Asia Premiership champions came into the game second bottom following four defeats in their opening seven games – although they had to overcome late nerves as Canes clawed their way back from a 46-12 deficit at one point.
This win made it four wins from eight and propelled Dragons above Dubai Exiles and into fourth, one point behind their beaten opponents.
The 83-point bonanza carried on a theme of high scoring contests in the Premiership this season – Dragons lost to Abu Dhabi Harlequins 38-20, Canes beat Exiles 36-25, Bahrain beat Quins 39-20 and Dragons have beaten Exiles 45-36 in November alone.
Victory puts Dragons on 20 points, nine behind second-placed Bahrain and 10 adrift of leaders Quins, who leapfrogged Louie Tonkin’s side with a forfeited victory on Friday.
It’s a boost for Mike Phillips’ men whose 38-20 reversal at title-chasing Quins a week ago had left them fifth, closer to rock bottom Dubai Eagles than Bahrain at the top of the Premiership.
Eagles, meanwhile, forfeited their scheduled game with Quins at Dubai Sports City on Friday, handing Mike McFarlane’s men an automatic 20-0 bonus point win.
Thursday’s Dragons v Canes game was the only one to go ahead after Exiles and Bahrain was postponed because of an injury crisis for Jacques Benade’s men.
It’s a blow to Louie Tonkin’s league-leading Bahrain – sapping their momentum on the final week before the 15s game takes a brief hiatus for the sevens season. The two teams are discussing a new date and hope to play the fixture in early December, the weekend after the Dubai Sevens.
Liam Williams has admitted to a case of the goosebumps as he prepares to join Wales’ 50-cap club.
Saracens wing Williams will reach the half-century landmark when he lines up against opponents Tonga on Saturday.
It comes six years after he made his Test debut and is testament to the enduring quality he offers Wales, either from wing – his starting position this weekend – or full-back.
“It was always my boyhood dream to play for Wales,” Williams said.
“To get to 50 caps gives me goosebumps just talking about it. Hopefully, there are many more to come.”
In a reference to his pre-professional rugby playing days, Williams added: “I am just a scaffolder living the dream. I did not really think it would be possible to get here.
“I got my first cap in 2012, and to win my 50th cap now is one of my greatest achievements. If I do lead out the team it would be a huge honour for me.
“Any game is emotional, but I have to look at the 50th as just a number. It is not about the cap number, it’s about me putting that red jersey on and going out there and giving it everything.”
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has made 14 changes for Tonga’s visit, with only lock Adam Beard retained in the starting line-up following last weekend’s first victory over Australia for 10 years.
The likes of Williams, fly-half Dan Biggar and lock Jake Ball provide an experienced edge.
But there are also several players in the preliminary stages of their international careers such as full-back newcomer Jonah Holmes, scrum-half Tomas Williams, prop Leon Brown and flanker Aaron Wainwright, who join them in the starting XV.
“It is good we can make these changes, which are going to help us going through to the Rugby World Cup next year,” Williams added.
🏴 The last time Wales faced Tonga was in the summer of 2017 🇹🇴— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) 17 November 2018
Three of today's starters - @SebDaviess, @steffevs09 and @wynjones2 - won their first caps in Wales' first win at Eden Park. (And yes, it involved some *big* hits.) pic.twitter.com/wPQOSqU8VZ
“It would be awesome to get a win under our belts, and then the big one next weekend against South Africa and try to finish off with another victory.
“As a squad, we are in a good place, and that is only going to work well for us leading into the World Cup.
“We know what they (Tonga) are. They are a big-hitting team that like to throw the ball about, so we have to be aware of that.”
Williams, meanwhile, has settled seamlessly into life with Premiership champions Saracens, having joined them from the Scarlets last year.
And with British & Irish Lions Test honours also in his portfolio, life is good on all fronts for the 27-year-old.
“I am going to take the third year at Saracens, which takes me up until the season after the World Cup,” he said.
“Moving to London was a big step for me. It was a bit of a lifestyle change, sort of like starting over again, although I knew some of the guys from the (2017) Lions tour.”
Maro Itoje insists England will be led into Saturday’s clash with Japan at Twickenham by a rugby brain worthy of a double PhD in the sport.
George Ford has been named captain for England’s penultimate autumn Test, a game that provides his first start after playing second fiddle to Owen Farrell at fly-half against South Africa and New Zealand.
It marks the 25-year-old’s 50th cap and serves as an opportunity to prove he can lead the side at next year’s World Cup should regular skippers Farrell and Dylan Hartley be struck down by injury.
“George is a great orator and his knowledge of the game is superb,” British & Irish Lions lock Itoje said.
“Him and Owen Farrell… I don’t think I know anybody who knows more about rugby than those two.
“If there was a PhD in rugby those guys would be double doctorates and I would be a student in their classes.
“George’s knowledge of the game is second to none and in my opinion he has led the guys brilliantly this week.
“It’s a big week for him with it being his 50th cap and he deserves the accolades. To win 50 caps at the age of 25 is impressive.
“He is not as vocal as others but if you are out there on the pitch you definitely hear him.”
Japan are positioned 11th in the global rankings and are heavy underdogs to win at Twickenham in only the second Test match between the nations.
The stunning upset of South Africa in Brighton at the 2015 World Cup – masterminded by Eddie Jones – and last autumn’s draw with France underline the danger they pose as underdogs.
Itoje, who will act as vice-captain on Saturday, welcomes fixtures against less established opposition.
“It’s a good thing for the global game. It’s good that tier one nations play traditional tier two nations,” Itoje said.
“I don’t know the economics of it, but we are in a fairly advantageous position compared to them. These kinds of games help the sport grow.
“It’s a chance to test yourself against a different opposition. Every country has a slightly different way of approaching the game and how they see the game.”
Itoje is confident England will have no difficulty matching the ferocity they displayed in last Saturday’s controversial 16-15 defeat by New Zealand.
“Japan are ranked a lot lower than us but they are actually a good team. This week I’ve watched quite a bit of them. They have some big boys,” Itoje said.
“They’re well drilled and well coached. Eddie has given us an insight into them and we know it definitely won’t be easy.
“If you look at their game and their history of results and what they did at the World Cup, they’re a tough and mentally strong team. We need to go out there and give it to them.”