Bahrain could feasibly have one hand on the West Asia Premiership title this weekend when they take on rivals Abu Dhabi Harlequins in a mouthwatering top of the table clash in the UAE capital.
The two sides have been a cut above the competition for the majority of the 2018/19 season and head into Friday’s seismic clash at Zayed Sports City 15 points clear of third-placed Jebel Ali Dragons.
Quins have 40 points from eight wins and two defeats, with Bahrain four points ahead, having lost just once all term – a 31-20 defeat to Dubai Exiles back in October.
“It’s a huge one this week for both teams,” Bahrain coach Louie Tonkin said.
For Quins, it feels like a pivotal week. They came back after the Christmas and Dubai Sevens break last week with an emphatic 57-31 defeat of Exiles, impressive giving the mini hiatus and in the wake of head coach Mike McFarlane’s exit from the club.
The Englishman has returned home for personal reasons, with the club set to release a statement in the coming days.
Win and they could go top of the table – with a bonus point. Lose and Bahrain will be heavy favourites to lift the trophy with four more games left this season.
Quins assistant coach Rory Greene said: “We’re approaching the game in the same way as we always do. We respect everyone in the league and there are no easy games anymore even if some scores say otherwise.
“Bahrain are the form side and we know we will have to be on top of our game to put them under pressure. However, our games are always really good, physical battles and we are expecting the same this weekend.
“There is still five matches to go in the league so a loss to Bahrain won’t be catastrophic but will obviously make it very hard to catch them.”
Elsewhere, Dragons and Exiles meet at The Sevens. Dragons – shorn of former Wales and British & Irish Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips as coach, he left last week after six months – won last week under new coach Colin Philips.
Exiles will hope for a victory while they will also be looking over their shoulder for Dubai Hurricanes, who are just a point behind and could leapfrog them into the coveted fourth spot with a win at Dubai Sports City over Eagles.
Eagles are searching for a maiden win of the campaign, having lost 10 straight fixtures.
15:00 Abu Dhabi Harlequins v Bahrain
17:00 Dubai Exiles v Jebel Ali Dragons
19:00 Dubai Eagles v Dubai Hurricanes
Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau looks set to miss the Guinness Six Nations after breaking his arm again, according to reports.
Faletau, a British and Irish Lion, suffered a fractured forearm playing for Bath in October and missed the autumn international series.
The 28-year-old returned for his club in Saturday’s 18-16 Heineken Champions Cup win over Wasps, but he has reportedly suffered another break.
Faletau is expected to be out for up to eight weeks, with the final round of Six Nations fixtures coming on March 16.
Wales begin their campaign away to France on February 1 and coach Warren Gatland is due to announce his squad at midday on Tuesday.
Speaking after his side’s game on Saturday, Bath director of rugby Todd Blackadder had been full of praise for Faletau.
“He looked great, didn’t he? Really sharp. If only we could have given him more ball,” Blackadder said.
“I have to give a big pat on the back to our strength and conditioning staff, for the work they do behind the scenes in getting the guys ready.
“Before the game, he (Faletau) was really, really nervous. But it’s good to see those nerves from an experienced guy like him.”
Gatland has several other injury concerns, with Leigh Halfpenny set to miss the start of the tournament as he has not played since suffering concussion during the victory over Australia on November 10.
Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac said last week that Halfpenny has seen a specialist and would not feature for “three to five weeks”.
Saracens star Liam Williams is likely to fill the full-back spot for the opener in Paris, with Italy providing Wales’ second opposition in Rome eight days later.
Dan Biggar is also nursing a knee injury suffered in Northampton’s European Challenge Cup defeat to Clermont Auvergne.
The outside-half limped off with what Saints director of rugby Chris Boyd described as a “minor knee twist”, although Biggar is expected to be fit for Wales’ curtain-raiser.
Ospreys lock Adam Beard suffered a neck injury over the festive period but should be fit to resume his second-row partnership with skipper Alun Wyn Jones.
Gatland must make further checks on Rhodri Jones (shoulder), James Davies (knee), Nicky Smith (ankle), Dan Lydiate (elbow), Rhys Patchell (hamstring), Jake Ball (shoulder) and Bradley Davies (knee).
Dragons back-rower Ross Moriarty has also been sidelined since suffering concussion last month, but has been pencilled in to return in the Guinness PRO14 clash against Munster on January 26.
Ospreys centre Scott Williams and Blues flanker Josh Navidi are expected to return after missing the autumn with respective hamstring and knee injuries.
But Scarlets flanker Aaron Shingler (knee) remains out and Blues captain Ellis Jenkins is another absentee as he continues his recovery from ACL surgery.
Provided by Press Association Sport
Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton has been voted the Rugby Union Writers’ Club personality of the year for 2018.
Sexton received the prestigious Pat Marshall award at the club’s annual dinner in central London following a remarkable 12 months that also saw him crowned world player of the year.
The 33-year-old, who topped a poll of the RUWC’s 200-plus members, has acted as Ireland’s general during a run of 11 wins from 12 Tests including an historic victory over New Zealand on Irish soil.
He was also instrumental in Leinster’s march to a fourth European title after Racing 92 were toppled in the Champions Cup final in May.
Sexton succeeds England fly-half Owen Farrell as holder of the Pat Marshall trophy and follows in the footsteps of previous greats to have won such as Gareth Edwards, Jonah Lomu, Martin Johnson and Jonny Wilkinson.
The list of five nominees in contention for the award was dominated by Ireland with head coach Joe Schmidt and tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong also present, as was Stuart Lancaster for his success as Leinster’s senior coach.
The final name among the nominees was South Africa flanker Siya Kolisi, who last year became the first black player to captain the Springboks’ Test team.