Kent Watene had arguably the biggest impact of any player on UAE Rugby Finals Day as he first scored the try that sent the UAE Conference Top 6 final to extra time – and then grabbed the golden score to clinch an epic win for Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
This game tends to throw up thrilling encounters – with Sharjah Wanderers claiming Top 6 glory a year ago with a try in the last seconds to secure a 27-26 victory over Jebel Ali Dragons 2nds.
This year’s final was even more dramatic, with New Zealander Watene at its centre as Quins scored a try with 14 seconds remaining against the valiant 14 men of Al Ain Amblers.
It was an enthralling encounter throughout, Quins erasing a 19-7 half-time deficit to win a game that will live long in the memory.
“We gave them a massive lead, so to run them down and score a try to take it to extra time and then to win it like that was pretty awesome. It was a great feeling,” said 30-year-old flanker Watene.
“It was amazing to win it like we did, to score the try to take it to extra time and then the winning one, it was pretty special. All I had to do was fall over the line really, the guys in front just fed it to me and did all the work. It’s a special feeling.”
A fairytale ending to a season that had started dreadfully for Amblers was not to be. But having began it by withdrawing from the top-flight UAE Premiership after been shorn of a host of star names by rivals clubs, they can be proud of how it ended.
Amblers came into the game as slight favourites, having finished top of the Top 6 with four wins from five, six points ahead of Quins.
The two teams had played out a thriller just weeks ago, with Quins running out 34-33 winners at Zayed Sports City, so it was perhaps no surprise the final was again closely contested.
“We won by a point against them a few weeks ago and knew we had to step it up today,” added Watene.
“They showed in that first half they’d gone up a gear so we really had to grind. It’s a massive achievement.”
Despite all their talent, Watene admitted it was Quins’ character that saw them claim a memorable win.
“It really was (more about character today),” he said. “We’ve really worked hard this year. Everyone has bought into the team culture. I’ve been here three years, we’ve been building to this so it’s an awesome feeling.”
Amblers took hold of the first half after Quins flanker Gwennael Pettilat was sent to the sin-bin. Rocco De Bruyn’s side went ahead in the 15th minute through a quite brilliant try – something that was to become a feature of the game – through winger Ebrahim Doree.
He crashed over after being fed by an exquisite one-handed behind the back pass by Adam Chapman, although Frederick Karl Holdt missed a tough conversion.
Three minutes later it was 12-0 with Holdt powering over after throwing a sublime dummy after a free-flowing move.
South African flanker Gerrit Visser got Quins in the game just before half time with their first try, influential fly-half Tom Brown kicking a sublime conversion from the touchline.
Their hard work was undone a minute before the interval though when Al Ain crossed for their third try. This time Doree was the provider, throwing another one-handed pass to centre Ilisoni Galala who burst through a tiny gap and dived for the corner, managing to ground the ball despite the attention of two Quins tacklers.
Holdt nailed the touchline conversion to sent Amblers in at the break 19-7 up.
They could have buckled but Quins got right back in it eight minutes after half time with a try for centre Ashbey Williams, who had the freedom of the field to touch down after a loop pass found him in acres.
He then added a quick-fire second to draw the sides level with the try of the game. An Al Ain clearance kick was fielded by Quins winger Neil McRory. Full-back Tom Southall chipped ahead and Williams outmuscled his marker to reach it first before throwing a debastating step to evade the full-back and streak in under the posts to tie the game at 19-19.
Quins were in the ascendancy but Amblers retook the lead when Epeli Davetawalu took a pass from a team-mate in contact and sprinted in from 30 metres with 13 minutes left.
The big man quickly went from hero to zero though when he was sent off for deliberately killing the ball – having earlier been shown a yellow.
Quins poured forward, initially to no avail, with Amblers defending desperately. The pressure eventually told with 14 seconds left as they rumbled forward from a five metre scrum and Watene gleefully touched down. They still needed to convert but Brown kept his nerve to send the game into the extra period.
With the man advantage it seemed inevitable that Quins would win it, and so it proved with Watene again the scorer, diving over from a maul to bring to an end a brilliant game.
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