A tenacious Kandy performance coupled with an error-strewn showing from Dubai Exiles handed the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League trophy to Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
Exiles claimed a relatively straightforward win but were unable to secure the 40-point margin of victory required to lift the title. Countless knock-ons contributed to a disjointed performance from Jacques Benade’s men at The Sevens.
The South African fielded an experimental team with talisman Durandt Gerber shifted along to inside centre, while the humid weather conditions also played a part.
The result, however, was as much down to the determination of the Sri Lankans, who did not wilt as they had done in the stifling heat of their encounter with Quins in Abu Dhabi three days earlier.
Gerber put the hosts ahead with a penalty after two minutes and then set up winger Matt Richards for the opening try with a delightful looping pass out wide to the Englishman who cut inside to touch down.
Scrum-half Alex Fowler, in for the absent Ed Armitage, looked lively in and around the breakdown and showed good awareness to dive over for Exiles’ second try from a ruck near the Kandy line as the hosts began to exert a grip on the game.
That hold, on the game or the ball, didn’t last though. Kandy scored nine unanswered points through the boot of outside half Arshad Tamaldeen, his first penalty a beauty from just inside his own half as half-time loomed.
He cut the gap to seven early in the second half before Exiles began to move through the gears. Skipper Glenn Moore finished off a fine move, holding off two tacklers to touch down under the posts following good work from debutant Jerry Kilicanasau.
The former Al Ain Amblers livewire signed with the club several weeks ago but was also guilty of several knock-ons as well as trying to offload in the tackle too much as Exiles chased the game.
Gerber, Michael Sole, Matt Mills, Alex Carlton Porter and Nathan Appleby also lost forward at vital moments as the trophy began to slowly slip away from last season’s double winners.
They did score again when Gerber threw a dummy to stroll over after Exiles had stolen a lineout with 10 minutes remaining. That meant they required three converted scores to take the title but their night was summed up when Jonny Rivlin, Kristian Stinson and Kris Hughes conspired to lose possession out wide when a try seemed imminent.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins head coach Mike McFarlane has paid tribute to his players’ “incredible attitude” after they were handed the Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League title.
The men from Zayed Sports City were crowned champions last night after Dubai Exiles failed to beat Sri Lankans Kandy by the required 40-point margin.
Exiles won 29-9 at The Sevens but were left empty-handed following Quins’ emphatic 56-17 triumph over Kandy in the capital on Tuesday night.
And McFarlane was full of praise for his side, who played four days after their 23-23 draw with Exiles, who enjoyed a week-long rest.
“To come away from the competition with a trophy and all the lads with minutes under the belt is fantastic,” said McFarlane.
“With a four-day turnaround, with the harsh weather conditions we played some fantastic rugby rotating players. The boys are working so hard in every session and have an incredible attitude which fuels the fantastic culture in the club.”
McFarlane, a former Quins player, had spoken previously of his feeling both Quins and Exiles would underestimate Kandy at their peril.
The Sri Lankan champions wilted badly in the sticky Abu Dhabi heat on Tuesday as the game wore on, having taken the lead in the match. Their stamina was much improved in Dubai in slightly cooler conditions, and McFarlane was happy they were able to do his side a massive favour by thwarting the West Asia Championship and UAE Premiership champions.
“I said all along Kandy are a good team and have threats all over the park,” he said. “They are a great bunch of lads as well which we know from touring there, and we are happy they did us a favour today.”
The Henry Paul era at Jebel Ali Dragons is officially underway with a nine tries to two romp over UAE Conference champions Sharjah Wanderers.
Dragons warmed up for the new season with the former dual code star at the helm with a comprehensive 72-12 victory against Nic Walters’ men at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence last night.
There were a brace of tries apiece for UAE internationals Imad Reyal and Ryno Fourie, with Jeremy Copland, James Semple, Saki Thackamrickambule, Shaun McCarthy and Matt Henry also crossing the whitewash in triumph.
Welsh winger Ian Overton, another of Dragons’ UAE internationals, admitted there was still an abundance of areas to work on ahead of the West Asia Premiership and UAE Premiership kick-off later this month, but said there are encouraging signs ahead for the Dubai-based side.
“The ball was slippery and structure needs a lot of work,” said Overton. “There were lots of scores from open play but we need to drill the structure and get that second nature.
“But for a first hit out in awful conditions I think Henry was happy enough. He’s got high standards so he wants us all singing from the same hymn sheet.”
Dragons finished seventh from nine teams in the WAC and came fifth out of six teams in the UAE Premiership last season.
They open up their 2016/17 campaign with a trip to Bahrain on September 23.