West Asia Premiership: Bahrain in control but Tonkin wants total domination

Matt Jones 23/01/2019
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Big push: Bahrain coach Louie Tonkin.

Bahrain are in a commanding position to win the West Asia Premiership following last week’s resounding defeat of Abu Dhabi Harlequins. But coach Louie Tonkin is only interested in total domination.

The Welshman believes two wins from Bahrain’s final three games will give his side the league title, but he wants to top the Premiership and secure home games in the West Asia Cup play-offs and retain the title they won last season.

The commanding 49-15 trouncing of Quins in Abu Dhabi last Friday saw Bahrain open up a gargantuan nine-point lead over the coachless Quins – who said goodbye to Mike McFarlane after nearly four years in charge last week.

But Tonkin is looking at the bigger picture and adding the double to last term’s cup triumph – a maiden trophy for Bahrain in eight years.

“It’s all about the play-offs now so we can get a home semi-final and a home final in the cup,” said Tonkin, who has transformed the club in his two-and-a-half years in charge.

“We won the cup last year and (Jebel Ali) Dragons won the Premiership, but we want to be outright West Asia champions this year.

“It’s important to finish strongly. There are some big challenges ahead. We have (Dubai) Exiles at home then Dragons away and a big game against (Dubai) Hurricanes. Those three teams are in a three-way battle for those last two play-off spots so we know they’ll all be raring to go.”

Tonkin is targeting two more wins for his side after the club were given a bonus point win ahead of this weekend’s 12th round of fixtures following Dubai Eagles’ decision to forfeit. That means Bahrain’s lead at the top is stretched to 14 points ahead of this weekend’s fixtures, which sees Quins go to Jebel Ali and Canes host Exiles.

“Moving forward, we’re disappointed Eagles have forfeited this weekend. We don’t get a lot of home games so we were really looking forward to hosting,” added Tonkin.

“It is what it is. We have three games left and we’re all guns blazing for Exiles next week. Exiles are the only team to beat us this year and they did so deservedly so we know they have some key players back now and we’re really targeting that game.

“Nine points clear, we’re aware two wins in the final three games will see us over the line and give us the title, which is what we’ve targeted from the beginning.”

West Asia Prem fixtures:

Friday

Bahrain F-F Dubai Eagles

17:30 Dubai Hurricanes v Dubai Exiles

19:00 Jebel Ali Dragons v Abu Dhabi Harlequins

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England captain Owen Farrell confident he will be fit to face Ireland

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Owen Farrell

Owen Farrell is confident he will be fit to lead England into their Guinness Six Nations opener against Ireland in Dublin.

Farrell on Saturday underwent surgery to repair a damaged tendon in his thumb, casting doubt over his involvement against Joe Schmidt’s champions at the Aviva Stadium on February 3.

Saracens issued a prognosis of seven to 10 days of recovery but Farrell expects to be fully involved in the squad’s pre-tournament camp in Portugal that begins in earnest on Friday.

“The hand is good. I had something small done to it on the weekend,” Farrell said at the Six Nations launch in south west London.

“I should be training towards the end of this week. It was a gradual thing and is something small.”

When asked if he expected to play against Ireland, Farrell replied: “I’m confident, yes.”

As captain, playmaker-in-chief, goalkicker and talisman, Farrell’s fitness is key to England’s hopes of causing an upset against Ireland.

Dylan Hartley, Farrell’s co-captain, and Chris Robshaw have been sidelined by knee injuries, leaving Eddie Jones without two trusted on-field lieutenants.

If Farrell fails to recover in time, George Ford will start in the number 10 jersey and could also be named skipper with Maro Itoje an alternative for the role.

Despite the injury scare, Jones has opted against calling up any cover for the nine-day camp in the Algarve.

“I’m confident Owen is going to play and we’ve got George there as well so we’re well stocked for 10s,” Jones said.

Wasps forwards Joe Launchbury (neck), Brad Shields (side strain) and Nathan Hughes (ankle) are carrying knocks sustained against Leinster on Sunday but Jones refused to elaborate on their fitness.

“We get together today (Wednesday). If we trained today we’d have 34 out of 36 available because a couple are still sore after the weekend,” Jones said.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt revealed that when passing Jones in the venue for the Six Nations launch the Australian joked: “Get ready for a few grenades”.

When asked to elaborate, Jones responded: “They’re in Portugal, we’re in Portugal. I’m going to the airport now and buying a pair of binoculars.”

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Wales head coach Warren Gatland says there is 'nothing concrete' for next role

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Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland says there is “definitely nothing concrete” in place for his next coaching role after he leaves Wales.

Gatland said last week that he has had informal conversations about possibly coaching the British and Irish Lions for a third time when they head to South Africa in 2021.

But while he is unlikely to be short of worldwide job offers, given his coaching calibre, nothing is currently on the table.

Gatland is about to embark on his final Six Nations campaign as Wales head coach, which will be followed by a World Cup swansong in Japan later this year.

Wales have won three Six Nations titles, including two Grand Slams, during a 12-year reign under Gatland that also saw them reach the 2011 World Cup semi-finals.

“I have had a couple of discussions with some people at the moment, yeah,” Gatland said, speaking at Wales’ training base.

“But there is definitely nothing concrete. Maybe at the end of the World Cup I will be unemployed.

“I was looking to take a few months off and then start looking in the middle of 2020, potentially do some Super Rugby in New Zealand if there was an opportunity.

“But I am also aware that there are not a lot of jobs in New Zealand. That might not be an option.

“So whether it is back in club rugby in the Premiership, or France or Japan, or something like that.”

RUGBYU-ARGENTINA-WALES

Gatland’s coaching CV includes masterminding the Lions’ 2013 Test series victory over Australia, plus a drawn series with the world champion All Blacks two years ago and European and domestic title success at Wasps.

Current Scarlets head coach and fellow New Zealander Wayne Pivac will succeed Gatland in the Wales hotseat from November.

“I take a lot of pride in the fact we go out there and it doesn’t matter who we play, they know they are in for one hell of a tough game,” Gatland added.

“I’ve watched and been to a number of games at the old Millennium Stadium and seen the All Blacks put out a second-string team against Wales. There is no way they would do that now.

“We’ve put ourselves in positions where we should have beaten Australia on more occasions, but we’ve been pretty good against South Africa in winning five of our last six games.

“Success for me is not always about winning, it’s about over-achieving.

“If you look at Premiership football and a team like Bournemouth, they’ve been successful because they are over-achieving in terms of what people expect.

“If Cardiff City stay up this season they will have been successful and over-achieved because everyone expects them to get relegated. That’s the way I look at things.

“For me it’s not always about winning, it’s about becoming hard to beat, and if you do that you get a sense of pride in how you do things. Then it’s about winning more often and developing your game.”

Wales’ 12th Six Nations campaign of the Gatland era begins against France in Paris on Friday week.

“I think what’s changed about it is how competitive the Six Nations has become,” Gatland said.

“There was a period when, leading into the Six Nations, everyone said it was between England and France and that those two teams should play on the final weekend and everyone else just made up the numbers.

“I was involved in the old Five Nations before Italy were involved, and they are still playing a bit of catch-up and they are pretty aware of it.

“But at the moment, I think the other five teams on their day are capable of beating each other and capable of winning the Six Nations.”

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