The UAE Conference has reached the business end of the season with results and standings suggesting the Top 6 title could provide a thrilling finale to the 2016/17 season.
Jebel Ali Dragons 2nds topped the table after 10 games but the league’s 11 teams now split into the Top 6 and Bottom 5 competitions, with the winner of the Top 6 being crowned Conference champion.
Last season was a straight shootout between Dragons and Sharjah Wanderers, with the two teams saving arguably the greatest game of the campaign for the final, where Nic Walters’ Wanderers came from 16-0 down to claim an epic 27-26 win in the final minute to lift the trophy and preserve an impressive unbeaten season.
This season’s Conference has already thrown up a host of interesting storylines, and it will be fascinating to see them play out once the Top 6 begins a week on Friday.
Dragons have maintained their status as one of the title favourites. Robbie Cameron’s men would surely have been looking at replicating Sharjah’s unbeaten run to last season’s championship, but they were thrashed 41-18 by Abu Dhabi Harlequins 2nds in the final league game on Friday.
They are nevertheless one of the main sides to watch, having won nine of their 10 games, claiming a 27-19 triumph against second-placed Dubai Exiles 2nds when the two sides, at the time both unbeaten, met in a top of the table clash at The Sevens in December.
In a day of intriguing results last Friday, Gareth Venter’s Exiles also suffered only their second defeat in 10 games, going down 39-34 to Dubai Hurricanes 2nds, a result which helped them secure their Top 6 berth.
In 10 games, Exiles boast the best defence, having allowed just 96 points, while they have also accumulated a magnificent nine bonus points – again the most of any team in the division.
The highest scorers heading into the Top 6 are Quins, who have accumulated 435 points on their way to winning seven games from 10 to finish third in the overall table.
The reigning champions have given themselves a chance of retaining their title, although life has been far from plain sailing a year on from their trophy win.
Three opening wins were followed by three straight defeats. They suffered another to make it four defeats and six wins, although their latest victory saw them topple Quins 40-31 on January 20.
The rugby extravaganza saw over 220 teams battle it out for glory, contesting 30 age group trophies in a competitive and lively atmosphere.
Amongst the youthful and enthusiastic youngsters taking part were a record number of local Emirati children, with the UAE Rugby Federation using the event as the yearly culmination and highpoint of the acclaimed player pathway programme.
Supporting and guiding the rookie players from the sidelines of the HSBC Rugby Festival Dubai was England international and HSBC ambassador Alex Goode, who also imparted his rugby wisdom in a number of high-paced, sprightly sessions on the HSBC skills zone.
Impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the youngsters he said: “This is my first time in the UAE and it is brilliant to see such passion and desire amongst young rugby players. The kids here have such a determination and hunger to improve, a positive outlook that makes my job – to instil an interest in this sport – very easy indeed.
When asked about how important events like the HSBC Rugby Festival Dubai are to grow the game or rugby he continued:
“I don’t think you can underestimate how important events like this HSBC Rugby Festival are for this sport. Tournaments like this, focussed on the kids, provide the perfect platform for any young player, from any background, to mature, enhance and showcase their skills. It’s fantastic to see the sport developing in new regions and opening doors to all those who want to give it a go.”
The HSBC Rugby Festival Dubai 2017 took place from Friday 27th to Saturday 28th of January 2017 at The Sevens Stadium, Dubai. Thousands of young players are expected to compete across the two days of thrilling competition. Follow the conversation @HSBC_Sport on twitter and HSBC Sport on Facebook.
New Dubai Hurricanes coach Mike Wernham is wary of traveling to face an in-form Bahrain on Friday but is hoping his side can build on plenty of positives from a narrow defeat to table-topping Abu Dhabi Harlequins last week.
Canes suffered a fifth defeat in seven West Asia Premiership matches at Zayed Sports City last week, but new man Wernham was pleased with what he saw from his new-look side in a 24-19 defeat.
“We’re really excited,” he said.
“We’ve had a good week of training. It will be a huge task, we’re under no illusions what’s coming our way from Bahrain. We know their result last week will give them confidence. Following on from our own result we’re looking for the next step forward.
“We’ve been focusing on counter attack, hoping to give us go forward ball in order to hit Bahrain hard.
“It’s always tough going away so the biggest focus is getting our mindset right before kick-off. If we have that and get the structures right we’re hoping to going to Bahrain and getting a result.”
After his 13 men held on for a thrilling 22-19 triumph at Jebel Ali Dragons last week, Bahrain coach Louie Tonkin is hoping his side can improve again.
“Hopefully we can take periods of good play last week against Dragons and make them longer this week and hopefully maintain our status,” said Tonkin, who is delighted that the visit of Canes sparks a sequence of four straight home games that he hopes his side can use to continue their momentum.
“It’s great to have a home game, the first of four in a row. We’ve been looking forward to this all season as we’ve played five away from seven so far, so we’re delighted to have a home game.
“We narrowly beat Canes away and they were under strength a bit that day so we’ve heard. They’re vastly improved and they will be strong, the Quins result shows that.