The Dubai Beaver Nomads were crowned winners of the inaugural UAE Community League last weekend with a 34-23 win against rivals Jebel Ali Dragons 3rds.
They may have a comical name, a smiling animated beaver adorns their tops and they play in the third tier of UAE domestic rugby, but nine wins and an unbeaten season must be taken seriously.
The Nomads have been wandering around UAE rugby circles for nearly two decades, but only became a 15s team for the first time this season, so to have won the Community League at their first attempt is some feat.
Outgoing chairman Daniel Whitley has been in the Emirates since 2009 but is heading home to the UK next week and couldn’t have wished for a better send-off.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better in my last game for the club and in the last game of the season than to win the league,” said the 34-year-old Scouser after seven years in the UAE.
“It’s great to end my time on a high. It was a tough game against Dragons. They were our strongest test of the season and something had to give. We played well and deserved it.”
Something did indeed have to give, with the league’s only unbeaten sides clashing at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence on Friday.
Just four points separated the Nomads in first and second-placed Dragons, the win securing the title for Nomads and maintaining their superb 100 per cent record.
“It all worked out, I think it was fate. I’m very proud to have won it and it’s the perfect send-off for me,” said Whitley, who was instrumental in setting up the Community League for the 2015-16 campaign.
Whitley, an associate with Mott MacDonald, the global management, engineering and development consultants, decided to contact the UAE Rugby Federation about establishing a social 15s league in 2014, working alongside representatives from Dubai Sharks, Arabian Knights and Barrelhouse Warriors.
“After playing a number of friendlies with our friends at the Sharks in 2014 we decided we wanted to play more regularly but were not ready to commit to the UAE Conference, as we had families and other commitments,” said Whitley.
“We approached the UAE RF with the idea of creating a new league for development stage rugby.”
Teams consisting largely of veterans and players completely new to rugby competed on a bi-weekly format that didn’t require 100 per cent commitment, but has proved hugely popular and successful.
“I couldn’t have dreamed we’d win it, we just wanted to just give it a go,” added Whitley.
“It was a bit of a risk, but it worked. We played Dubai Wasps and Sharjah Wanderers in pre-season which were close games, so we knew we had a good team, but to win the league is a massive achievement. It’s been a great success for us as a club and for rugby in the region.”
Winning the Community League does not bring with it promotion to the Conference for now, but under new chairman Karl McGowan, perhaps Nomads will rise through the ranks in the future.
Whitley added: “Maybe we could go up later, but for the time being, we’d like to maintain what we’ve got. I’m sure Karl will do a great job and build the club further.”
Centre Philip Snyman sliced through for Exiles’ opening try and they went on to cross the whitewash a further 13 times as they demolished fierce Dubai rivals Hurricanes 92-22 to claim the trophy in style.
The title was taken down to the final day of the season after Abu Dhabi Harlequins inflicted Exiles sole defeat of cross-border campaign two weeks ago to cut the gap to Benade’s men to one.
That would have understandably led to some fraught nerves inside the Exiles dressing camp before the game, but they rubbished any suggestion they might choke with a rampant display.
“I believe if we didn’t fall away the way we did (against Quins) we couldn’t have taken it to this game. These things happen for a reason and I’m glad it did now because the way the boys bonded together last week and this week in training and took the field today was unbelievable,” said gleeful Exiles prop, Kristian Stinson.
“We weren’t going to let it slip, because we were hurting so much from the previous game.”
Propping himself up against a wall in the corridor outside his team’s dressing room at The Sevens Stadium after the game, Benade looked emotionally and physically drained, but the beaming smile on his face won’t disappear for a while.
“I’m so delighted for those boys because they deserve it and they worked so hard,” said the South African, who was brought in by the club last July to reverse their fortunes of recent years.
“We had one of those games where everything worked for us. They were just outstanding. That first try really settled the nerves and you could see the boys were starting to enjoy themselves and I could see the boys were right and focused. They played unbelievable rugby.”
Unbelievable rugby was putting it mildly. Exiles had a bonus point sewn up after just 22 minutes and the game by the interval as they led 47-15 having run in seven tries in an explosive half that yielded 62 points.
UAE sevens international Charlie Sargent helped himself to five scores, including a first-half hat-trick. Exiles had eight different scorers in total, with the pick of the bunch a lung-bursting effort from scrum-half Ed Armitage from virtually his own try-line, while half-back partner Durandt Gerber kicked 11 conversions and added a try for a personal haul of 39 points.
Canes hooker Chris Gregory was full of praise for the champions.
He said: “It could have gone two ways. They were either going to go all out in front of their fans or they were going to capitulate and lose it. Unfortunately for us they went and did it, and fair play. They’ve had a good year and they deserve it.”
That the title is even going down to the final day of the season is a feat in itself and all thanks to a superb first-half performance from Quins at Zayed Sports City two weeks ago.
McFarlane’s side stormed into a 29-3 interval lead and survived a second-half fight-back from Exiles to claim a 32-24 victory to go within one point of Jacques Benade’s team.
Quins must take care of business at home to Bahrain Friday, although everyone at the club will be praying Hurricanes can do them a favour and give Exiles as much of a test as they provided Quins within a 37-34 defeat a month ago.
“Our last game was a fantastic performance but we always look at ways to better ourselves rather than getting carried away with results,” said McFarlane, whose side have only lost two games – both to capital city neighbours Saracens – all season.
“It is business as usual and we look to continue our success. We want to finish the West Asia Championship strong and whatever Exiles do at The Sevens, they do.”
Quins will have a near full strength side for the visit of Bahrain, who have tailed off after a promising start to the campaign.
Although Quins have a title to play for, Bahrain player-coach Tom Ham says a win is equally as important for them.
“We obviously know it’ll be tough against a confident Quins who need the win, but for us it’s just as important, we need the win to try and make the most of what has turned out to be a season which we feel we have thrown away a bit,” said Ham.
“Unfortunately in this league with so few games, every game is so much more important and losing two games that were ours for the taking and we let slip have meant we are now fighting to be top half of the table rather than on the top.
“But if we can get into the top half of the table and another win against one of the better teams in the league then it will mean a lot to the club and show some good progression since last year.”
MUSCAT VS DOHA
Doha need a lot of things to go their way but are the only team apart from Dubai Exiles or Abu Dhabi Harlequins who stand a chance of getting their hands on the West Asia Championship trophy.
Doha sit third on 25 points, three behind Quins and four adrift of Exiles. Aaron Palmer’s men should march to the bonus point win needed against winless Muscat easily enough, but will be relying on Dubai Hurricanes and Bahrain to do them a favour in the other games.
“We are going in knowing we can only control our result and hope Bahrain and Hurricanes may do us the biggest favour ever,” said Palmer (picture above).
Muscat vice captain Karl Rasmussen insists his team will give Doha everything they have. “For those guys who are playing our main aim is to get that victory and finish on a high note,” he said.
The other remaining game is between Jebel Ali Dragons and Abu Dhabi Saracens, who will be determined to keep hold of fourth spot.
“We are looking to finish strong,” said joint head-coach Craig Nutt, whose side should be at full strength apart from lock Paddy McKeown who is out. Dragons director of rugby Paul Hart added: “We are determined to finish the WAC off well with a strong home performance.”