UAE Conference teams set for fierce fight

Matt Jones - Editor 19:45 31/01/2017
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Robbie Cameron.

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.

Canes finished fifth, a point below Sharjah, which means just 14 points separated fifth and first, which adds to the feeling the Top 6 will be hugely competitive.

Even Al Ain Amblers 2nds, who scraped into the Top 6 after finishing level on 24 points with Heartbeat Tigers thanks to a superior points record, will feel they have a shot after enjoying a resurgence in recent months.

The Garden City side lost four of their first five games and certainly felt the force of their senior side withdrawing from the West Asia Premiership, having suffered a mass exodus of players to rival teams over the summer.

Slowly but surely though, Amblers clawed their way back and won four of their last five matches to earn a spot in the Top 6.

They did it in style too, amassing eye-catching wins against Tigers (90-7), Sharks (76-10) and Sarries (63-10), with the Tigers triumph the league’s joint highest score and second largest margin of victory.

Elsewhere, in the Bottom 5, Dubai Sharks or Heartbeat Tigers might be considered the favourites to end the season with silverware.

Tigers finished seventh thanks to a 20-0 victory on Friday courtesy of a forfeit due to Dubai Wasps’ injuries, while Sharks came eighth after an entertaining 39-24 triumph against Arabian Knights.

Tigers’ six bonus points gave them the edge despite winning one less game than Adrian Cartwright’s side, with Knights, Wasps and Abu Dhabi Saracens the other three teams in contention.

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