It’s wonderful to see another name engraved onto a winners’ trophy in domestic rugby – different victors have been few and far between in recent years.
Up until April, UAE rugby had been dominated by Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Dubai Exiles over the last four years. The pair had won 14 of expatriate rugby’s 18 trophies since the 2014/15 season.
Jebel Ali Dragons joined the party at the start of 2018 when they hoisted a long overdue piece of silverware – their epic West Asia Premiership victory was a first trophy in four years.
It had been even longer for Bahrain – exiled on the fringes of west Asia – whose West Asia Cup triumph earned them a maiden success after eight barren years.
Last year’s Premiership hinted at an exciting new era of fierce competition ahead. Quins, Exiles, Dragons and Bahrain all went toe-to-toe with one another. In the end Exiles claimed the Dubai Sevens and UAE Premiership double, Dragons won the West Asia Premiership – rugby’s most coveted title – and Bahrain had the West Asia Cup.
Hurricanes? Who are they? They were nowhere to be seen – just good enough to avoid a relegation scrap between Abu Dhabi Saracens and fledgling Dubai Eagles but nowhere near the standard being set by the foursome at the forefront of the domestic game.
But ex-Wales sevens international Matthew Pewtner’s arrival hinted at a shift in a more professional direction – as had the link-up a few years previously with namesake Super Rugby side the Hurricanes, from whom Canes acquired Sam Tufuga and Gerard Faitotoa last October.
Pewtner came in around the same time as backs coach, ambitiously stating he one day hoped to get Canes playing on Pitch 1 in the main Sevens Stadium, where the Gulf Men’s League final is always staged.
Pewtner played with Wales all around the world, but missed out on Dubai twice through injury, so it was ironic he should appear there for the first time as a coach.
Excellent work has also been done by Mike Wernham at Canes. The Englishman is a schoolteacher by profession, which has no doubt helped drill his side into shape during his 22 months in charge.
Treble winners in gulf rugby as recently as 2010/11, Canes have certainly taken a tumble since then.
When the 15s season returns, Bahrain and Quins will remain the two teams to beat in the West Asia Premiership. But while 2018/19 may be a bit soon for Hurricanes to change the forecast on that front, a storm is definitely brewing.
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