Harlequins have been urged to use the pain of not making the UAE Premiership final for motivation, after they beat city rivals Saracens to secure first place in the Gulf Top Six standings.
Quins made it eight wins from eight to hold off the threat of their improving opponents, thanks to tries from the outstanding Luke Stevenson, Chris Marshall, Chris Jones-Griffiths and Ed Lewsey.
Their reward for Friday’s 40-18 triumph is the guarantee of home advantage at Zayed Sports City in the grand final on April 4.
That match provides them with the chance to claim silverware after they failed to make November’s Premiership showpiece, which saw Jebel Ali Dragons thrash Dubai Hurricanes.
“The boys are hurting that they did not make the Premiership final,” player-coach Jeremy Manning told Sport360°. “It is now up to us to put our best foot forward in the remaining weeks and finish off the season well.”
The weekend meeting saw top play bottom at Al Ghazal, but there was little sign in the disparity between them in the early stages as flanker Ian Hughes powered through to give Saracens a deserved lead.
Quins held their nerve after a shaky start to let the class in a backline missing full-back Matt Hutchings prove the difference.
At the heart of it all was Stevenson, who claimed 25 points in an ubiquitous performance which saw him pop up on the wing to score his side’s opening try.
Manning revealed it is the fly-half’s dedication that is proving so vital in a campaign in which he has already gone past the 100-point mark.
“He is a match-winner, who dictates everything for us,” he said. “He is the first one at training every week. He pesters me all week for balls, and having him there gives me a nice bit of breathing space.”
Saracens’ interim player-coach James Tirrell praised the attitude of his players despite not being able to build on last week’s first-ever Gulf Top Six win.
Tirrell said: “We had a strategy to believe in ourselves, be physical everywhere and kick-chase to try and suffocate Quins. “We targeted the scrum, and we did alright there.
“It is a credit to the guys to win last weekend and then give the top guys a good game.”
Quins now host the Hurricanes next Friday, while Saracens are at home again when they face the Dragons.
Abu Dhabi Saracens welcome city rivals Harlequins to Al Ghazal this Friday buoyed by a first-ever win in the Gulf Top Six.
Following two near misses away at Bahrain and Doha, Sarries finally got the win coach Steve Evans believed had been coming with a 21-18 victory at Dubai Hurricanes.
The victory could hardly have come at a better time either with league leaders, Quins, visiting on Friday.
The match will be the third time the capital clubs have met in competitive action this season, with Saracens suffering two heavy defeats – 38-13 and 41-12 – so far.
Quins player-coach Jeremy Manning said he was “delighted” to hear Saracens had beaten Canes but is aware it will only make his side’s job tougher this weekend.
“They had a fantastic win last week and I dare say it’s going to give them a lot of confidence, which is great to see from a rugby point of view,” he told Sport360°. “They’re getting better every week and that’s good to see that teams are improving and an Abu Dhabi club is moving in the right direction.”
Saracens’ win was fuelled by a couple of impressive displays from debutants Josh Sharp and James Tirrell, who have joined them on a short-term basis from their Aviva Premiership counterparts.
Manning isn’t worried about facing the newboys though, saying his side “don’t worry about who we’re playing or who they’ve got on the team-sheet.”
Quins have won seven out of sevens games in the regional tournament so far, but their coach insisted the idea of going the whole Top Six season unbeaten had not even been discussed.
Friday’s play has been given an extra pinch of spice with a second XV game between the sides added to the bill.
Both second strings have completed their UAE Conference commitment for the season.
15:00 Jebel Ali Dragons v Doha
15:00 Dubai Hurricanes v Bahrain
17:00 AD Saracens v AD Harlequins
With the UAE rugby scene rapidly growing in popularity, Sport360° decided that it was time to learn a bit more about the players lighting up the Gulf Top Six this season.
This week we spoke to Abu Dhabi Harlequins full-back Patrick Hegarty about his funniest experience in rugby and his greatest achievement in the sport.
Years in the UAE:
Represented UAE XVs and sevens Gulf Top Six, UAE Premiership
Favourite childhood memory of rugby:
Getting my picture in the paper with John Eales
Favourite player growing up:
Rugby team you support:
Best current international player:
Quade Cooper, he sticks it to Richie McCaw and has ridiculous Instagram pictures
Rule in the game you would change:
I would eliminate scrums because props are a waste of time.
Best game you’ve ever seen:
Pretty much every time the Wallabies beat the English but also when New Zealand recently beat Ireland 24-22.
Toughest opponent in UAE:
Andy Russell, in space he’s the most dangerous player for me.
Funniest moment in your rugby career:
Chris Griffiths-Jones swann-dived against Doha on the weekend, it was more like a Killer whale leap.
Greatest achievement in any sport:
Representing Queensland Country and the UAE.
Another sport you’d like to play professionally:
Darts, because you can do what you want and still turn up for training.
Ice cream with chocolate cake mashed into it.