They had absolutely dominated, laying waste to pretty much anyone who stood in their way.
But Bahrain endured a far more nervous night in order to earn west Asia glory on Friday, requiring the last kick of the game to decide their 2018/19 campaign.
Having won 14 of 15 games in the West Asia Premiership during the campaign, they were rightfully champions. Louie Tonkin’s side, however, really ran the gauntlet in the final – claiming a narrow 23-21 win over Dubai Exiles on their home patch.
Exiles scored a try in the final move of the match in Saar but, even though Durandt Gerber missed the ensuing conversion that would have taken the game to extra time, he would have another chance to win the game outright from 50 yards following a red card for the home side’s Jack Phillips in the act of Michael Stubbs’ last-gasp try.
Winger Stubbs was hit high as he crossed for the critical score and because Phillips saw red following the ensuing melee, the laws of the game state that Exiles had two shots at goal – one from the conversion, out wide where the try was scored, and the second a penalty kick from the halfway line.
South African fly-half Gerber dragged his conversion to send the game to an extra period wide but then looked to have sent the three-pointer – to win Exiles the game – over the bar, only for a consultation between the officials to clarify the ball had dropped just under the crossbar.
It meant joy and relief for the hosts and heartbreak for Exiles and Gerber, who had converted a penalty from halfway for his side earlier in the game.
“Well that was madness, a 23-21 Bahrain win,” Exiles’ Northern Irish lock Stephen Ferguson told Sport360 following a brilliantly bizarre end to the top-flight season in UAE rugby.
“But not without a big call at the end and not without incident. We scored in the corner to make it 23-21. Du to kick to level and go to extra time.
“In the act of us scoring their centre hit our winger high and got a red card. So we would restart with a penalty.
“Du missed our conversion first but then we opt to kick our penalty from halfway to win.
“It was on target and just under the bar supposedly even though a few of their guys thought it was over. Fair play, an unreal final and the Bahrain lads, all great guys, will be buzzing but probably with a sour taste as it was so close.
“We’ll take a lot from that into the UAE Premiership semi-final and build going forward.”
The game had followed the same script as the league season early on with Bahrain leading 20-6 early in the second half after two tries from centre Phillips and a faultless kicking display from Ross Preedy.
Peter Killian’s pushover try got Exiles back in it with 15 minutes left, but Leon Mauer’s penalty appeared to have settle it when he made it 23-13.
But Gerber hit back with his own three-pointer and he and Ed Armitage then provided the space for Stubbs to squeeze over and create the most dramatic of endings.
“All I have to say is fair play to Exiles, an amazing performance from them,” said Bahrain’s Scottish hooker Lindsay Gibson.
“They’re the only team to come here this season and cause us problems, but I’m glad our consistency over the whole season was rewarded with the West Asia title.”
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