Dubai Exiles and Al Ain Amblers can go into the new UAE Premiership campaign full of confidence after both teams showed flashes of brilliance in their explosive clash.
There was pace and power aplenty on show in the Garden City as Al Ain hosted its pre-season tournament, with the highlight of the day Exiles’ 34-24 triumph in the night’s showpiece match.
Both teams have new head coaches, Jacques Benade seeing his Exiles jump into an early 22-7 and then 27-12 lead before the hosts stormed back in the second half, Andrew Rouvi’s men at one point closing the gap to 27-24 before a fifth Dubai score settled matters.
Benade was pleased with the competitive streak his side showed.
“That’s what we want to do,” said the South African. “The boys have been working hard the last four weeks and we want to go and compete. We don’t really have a target, we just want to go and see if we can win every game. If we can do that it will be brilliant.
“(Friday) showed, with ball in hand, we can be very good. Without the ball we just need to be more disciplined.
“It was an excellent game against a brilliant team so it was ideal, it’s what everyone needs.”
New Amblers coach Rouvi, meanwhile, believes his side will hold their own in the Premiership.
“It’s early days but I like to think we will,” he said. “We’ve got a good starting point but we need to work from here. I think we need to do some fine tuning.
“Exiles exposed us a bit in the first half, so there’s definitely some things to work on, but we’re never beaten.
“We were down then came back to within three points. I think we showed good skills and some brilliance, but we have to keep it consistent and I think we’ll get there, but this was a good starting point.”
Both teams will perhaps head into the 2015-16 campaign feeling they have something to prove.
Amblers are the new boys, promoted to the Premiership after a stunning, unbeaten season on their way to being crowned kings of the UAE Conference, but aware the Premiership is an all together different environment.
Exiles, meanwhile, endured a frustrating campaign, finishing fifth in the Premiership and missing out on the elite Gulf Top Six competition.
They were forced to watch as Abu Dhabi Saracens, who they beat on the opening night of the season, went on to lift the West Asia Cup.
All the signs from Friday, however, point to the fact that anyone believing these two will be the weakest links will be left eating their words.
English twins Ryan and Danny Rapello caught the eye for Exiles, full-back Ryan displaying lightening pace to scamper over for two of his side’s tries, scrum-half Danny scoring one too.
South African fly-half Durandt Gerber was assured with the ball in hand or at his feet, nailing one impressive touchline conversion in swirling wind.
Exiles also have Tosh Masson in their ranks, the 30-year-old former centre spent time with Harlequins in the UK between 2007-10, making 21 appearances and scoring two tries for the English Premiership outfit. He also touched down in Friday night’s win.
Amblers also showed plenty of promise in their second half fight-back, especially Fijian Jerry Kilicanasau, who made his international bow for the UAE Under-20’s sevens side in the two legs of the U-20 Asia Sevens Series in Malaysia and Hong Kong last month.
He was at the heart of everything good Amblers did in attack, touching down for one try and also having a hand in a few more.
South Africa head coach Heyneke Meyer talked up his teams prospects for the 2015 Rugby World Cup stating, "I believe this team can do it, they believe they can do it."
Having made the UAE and the Gulf sit up and take notice last season, for Abu Dhabi Saracens the new campaign is all about taking the next step.
Only formed in 2011, the Sarries suddenly burst onto the scene in 2014-15 by beating Doha to win the West Asia Cup.
Now recognised as a force domestically and further afield, the men from Al Ghazal are determined to pick up a first trophy of the season by winning the inaugural Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League.
They face a familiar foe in their opening fixture on Friday, taking on Doha in Qatar, returning to the scene of their greatest triumph.
“They will more than likely be looking for a bit of revenge but we’ve had a fantastic pre-season, and for us it’s about taking the next step,” said Sarries’ joint head coach Stephen Hamilton.
“We have some new faces but also continuity with boys that have been here for some time and we’re looking to get more of an understanding of our strengths and gauge our tactics to see how they work and how we want to play this season.”
Nearly six months have passed since they defeated Doha 26-20 in an enthralling West Asia Cup final, with Rhuwane Pienaar’s crucial late try sealing a landmark victory and capping a fine season for Ali Thompson and his men.
The Scotsman has since left, as has South African scrum-half Pienaar and most notably countryman Pieter Morton, who has joined Abu Dhabi rivals Harlequins.
The core of last season’s squad remains though, Hamilton determined to start the new era as promisingly as the previous one ended.
“We want a positive start,” said Hamilton. “We’re very proud to be part of the competition, but it is a long season. However, we wouldn’t go into a tournament not looking to win. We have three games and we’re looking for three wins.
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“We want to re-inforce our positive pre-season with confident and accurate performances and we’re confident we can rival any team.”
After Sarries and Doha lock horns, Sri Lankan champions Kandy play Kazakhstan’s top team Olymp at 7he Sevens in Dubai on Saturday.
Doha will host Olymp next Tuesday while Sarries welcome Kandy to Al Ghazal. Sarries against Olymp and Doha against Kandy will both be played at 7he Sevens next Friday, September 18, the winners earning the right to call themselves the champion club in West Asia.