Abu Dhabi Saracens reached arguably the biggest milestone in their fledgling history last night with a first ever win over city rivals Harlequins.
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Ali Thompson’s men triumphed 10-6 at Zayed Sports City to exorcise a demon that had haunted them since their inception four years ago.
With Doha also recording another big win against Dubai Hurricanes last night, the rest of the Gulf Top Six season promises to be a mouth-watering few months of action.
When Sarries were set up in 2010, their first game was a 45-0 loss to Quins’ second team.
In a close encounter between the two rivals this time, there was only one try, with scrum-half Jonny Taylor touching down.
That score was converted by the returning Dougie Steele who also added a penalty, with Quins player/coach Jeremy Manning adding two penalties for the hosts.
Sarries’ centre Steve Hamilton admitted it was a back to the walls job in the second half, but says the team have now set their sights on GTS glory.
“It’s a massive win, a historical win,” said the Englishman.
Sarries led 10-3 at the break, but for all Quins’ second half pressure, they simply didn’t have an answer to their rivals’ staunch defence.
“We probably defended for the best part of 40 minutes,” added Hamilton.
“We put ourselves under pressure and made lots of mistakes but our defence was sound and our work ethic made the difference.”
Hamilton admitted it was nice to get the monkey off their backs, but he insists Sarries are now looking at the bigger picture.
“It’s taken a while to beat Quins and it’s a good feeling but as Ali (Thompson, head coach) said earlier this week, we now have bigger ambitions than just beating Quins in the derby.
“We’ve said this week that it’s not a derby, it’s a match and we need to win. We’re here to be taken seriously as Gulf Top Six contenders this season.”
Hamilton said the unity and confidence among the players is high.
“We’re very proud of the win but the GTS is a competition and we’re here to win it.”
Manning congratulated Sarries but promised Quins will come back stronger.
“It was a very close game, a good battle and they had their day,” he said.
“I thought we played the better rugby and we broke the line on so many occasions but couldn’t convert our chances.
“We’re playing some decent rugby but there’s still lots of games to go in the GTS and we’ve been in this position already this season so we’ll come back stronger.”
Doha beat Canes in their own backyard
Doha fired a warning shot as loud as a thunderclap by taking another big Gulf scalp at 7he Sevens last night.
Aaron Palmer’s men, fresh from a 50-10 trouncing of UAE Premiership and Dubai Sevens champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins the previous week, took their Gulf Top Six points tally to 91 in just two games by dismantling Dubai Hurricanes 41-5.
The game was as good as over by half-time with the visitors securing a bonus point inside the first 40 minutes courtesy of five first half tries that made it 29-5.
Jamie Clarke scored a brace for Doha who also touched down through Elliot Johnston, Stefano Hunt, Tom Booth, Luke Ward and Aaron McLelland, with Greg Evans converting three tries, with Canes’ solo effort from Greg Thompson.
Canes’ coach Ross Mills said Doha deserved their victory, adding: “They’re a good side, well drilled, and stuck to their game plan.”
It also didn’t help Canes’ cause when their standout player, fly-half Andy Powell, went off after 10 minutes with a dislocated shoulder.
Palmer said: “People have been saying that we were lucky against Quins but coming here and doing this to Canes is a statement.
“We can’t have asked for a better start and perhaps people will be taking us a little more seriously now.”
Dragons bounce back to edge out Bahrain
It might not have been pretty but Jebel Ali Dragons got their Gulf Top Six campaign up and running with a hard-fought seven point win in Bahrain.
The reigning West Asia Cup champions probably won’t care though as they came from behind to win 23-16. The Dragons’ bid to begin the new year and the GTS with a bang suffered a blow when they were tamed by Abu Dhabi Saracens last week.
Taking into account the fact that the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence pitches are being re-seeded this month, meant their hosting of Bahrain changed to a 891km trip west, and the pressure was certainly on.
Dragons looked to be back in their stride as they opened up an early 10-0 gap through a penalty and converted penalty try following the collapse of a scrum.
Adam Wallace reduced the arrears though and debutant Rob Bennett’s unconverted try.
Dragons must have feared the worst when a Wallace penalty nudged Bahrain into the lead early in the second half, before Tom Jankowski’s unconverted try meant the home side had suddenly surged into the lead with 16 unanswered points.
Dragons regained their composure though and Dan Minks’ try brought Dragons to within a point.
They went in front for a final time with a 40 yard drop goal from Strang, with a late Chris Greene try sealing a win to stop the rot.
Strang said: “We grinded it out. We were losing by a point with eight minutes to go which if you’d said to me earlier in the week I wouldn’t have been pleased with, but there was a lot on the line today so we’re definitely the happier team.”
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