Louie Tonkin is delighted with the undoubted progress his Bahrain side have made during his tenure having kept their unbeaten start to the West Asia Premiership season in tact on Friday.
Bahrain beat Dubai Exiles 18-15 at The Sevens – making it three games without defeat for the Welshman’s side as they head into a mini two-week break ahead of the sevens hiatus.
Having drawn 15-15 with Abu Dhabi Harlequins in their opening game – the first time Bahrain hadn’t lost in four games against Mike McFarlane’s men with Tonkin at the helm – and earning a maiden triumph against Exiles under his watch, Tonkin is hugely encouraged by his side’s start to the campaign.
“The three games we’ve had so far this season have been massive improvements on last season’s results,” said Tonkin.
“We lost to Exiles twice last year, we’ve not beaten them in my tenure so we’re really, really pleased. We lost to Quins last season and drew with them this year.
“We lost to Sarries away last year and got five points this year and we lost to Exiles last year too and picked up four points this year, so we’re improving on last year and improving each week too.”
Defeat meant back to back losses for Exiles, having opened their season with two wins, with the result following going down 22-18 the previous week to Jebel Ali Dragons.
Tonkin had previously steeled his charges for a testing early season period with Bahrain facing three away games on the bounce. And with two victories earned from their first two road trips, Tonkin now wants his team to complete the treble when Dubai Hurricanes are faced after the break on November 3.
“We’ve got two weeks to build to Hurricanes. They did well against Quins and seem to be improving under a very good coach in Mike,” said Tonkin after Canes lost narrowly 28-12 to Quins at Zayed Sports City on Friday.
“We’re looking forward to going back to Dubai and trying to pick up a third victory on UAE soil. It’s a difficult away period for us right now so that would be huge.
“We’ll focus on freshening up the environment and the bodies this week so if we pick up some points at The Sevens in a few weeks’ time we’ll be in a very good place going into the second half of the season.”
Just like Dragons rejoiced a week earlier having survived a late scare against Exiles, something they have regularly been on the end of in recent times, Tonkin was also pleased his side’s fortunes seem to have turned around.
“Exiles will feel hard done by as they had chances to win it and we had a little bit of luck, which is good because these sorts of games fell away from us last season so they’re falling our way for a change,” he added.
“It was a humdinger of a game, two massive packs going hammer and tong at each other. Our defence is growing week on week, we’ve conceded only one try in three games which is a great stat.
“The set-piece is going well too, we’ve had the same group of forwards for the last few games but our attack isn’t functioning very well right now.
“We’re not building substantial amounts of attacks on our opponents so that’s a focus in the next few weeks for us moving forward, and we feel when that clicks we’ll be in a really good position with our defence being so good.”
Despite the feeling of elation after they triumphed over Dubai Exiles last week, Paul Hart claims Jebel Ali Dragons are some way off the standard everyone at the club feels they can reach.
After a win against Abu Dhabi Harlequins was snatched away in the dying embers of their opening West Asia Premiership game against their fierce rivals a month ago – a late converted try saw Dragons defeated 34-33 – Dragons were on the right side of a tense result last week at The Sevens.
A 22-18 win was earned against hosts Dubai Exiles – although they survived a late try being disallowed for the home side. But veteran prop Hart claims a potential “banana skin” awaits in the form of Dubai Eagles tonight.
“The mood in the camp has been excellent this week,” said Hart.
“There’s been a massive turn out at training this week but we have been very honest and harsh with ourselves. We are nowhere near the standard we know we can be and the expectations our coaches have.
“We are taking the game against Eagles very seriously and know it’s a potential banana skin against a new but fast improving team. We are challenging ourselves to be accurate and produce a professional performance.”
As for the Eagles, they were brought back down to earth following their maiden win as a club – beating Abu Dhabi Saracens 17-11 three weeks ago – in a 28-12 defeat to Dubai Hurricanes last week.
But with another game and another week’s training under their belts, fly-half Sean Carey insists every little thing is helping their development.
“The boys were disappointed with the result (last week) which is a good thing,” said Carey.
“We thought it should have been a bit closer but we let it slip, and I think that comes down to concentration and experience. Those sorts of things will come later on in the season.
“But each week those things are getting better and we’ve been at training this week with the right mentality to go and target Dragons who we know are going to be very strong.”
The Premiership campaign takes a brief hiatus after this weekend and Carey insists Eagles will leave it all out on the field tonight.
“It’s really going to test us and we’re really up for it,” he said.
“We have a bit of a break after this so we’re going to give it everything. We’re growing and will put in a bigger performance again.”
After suffering a maiden defeat of the season in a heartbreaking 22-18 loss to Jebel Ali Dragons last week, Dubai Exiles face another massive challenge as they welcome another title contender in Bahrain to The Sevens tomorrow.
After two walloping wins over Dubai Eagles and Dubai Hurricanes to start the season, Jacques Benade’s men were brought back down to earth in an epic encounter against Dragons – one in which a late try for scrum-half Carel Thomas was initially awarded and then ruled out by the touch judge following a knock-on.
It burst Exiles’ early season bubble, but Benade remained positive after the game and insisted the performance of his team showed they can once again challenge for silverware in this season after a lackluster 2016/17.
“It wasn’t nice to lose last week but we’re very positive with what we’re doing. Dragons are a good side and I think they’ll be hard to beat. It was a good game,” said the South African.
“We knew we’d find out about ourselves and it would be our first test after two big scores. We defended well but gave them too much ball.
“Hopefully we’ll take a lot out of the game and believe we can compete back at this level. We’ll take more from this loss than the first two wins, definitely. It’s an eye-opener.
“We played well in parts and stuck together and I saw plenty of belief. They are a good side and so are Bahrain and they will be another big test this week. Abu Dhabi Harlequins will be competitive again too so to have four teams fighting makes for brilliant rugby.”
Bahrain thrashed Abu Dhabi Saracens 54-12 last week, having drawn 15-15 with quintuple-winning Quins in their opening fixture, and coach Louie Tonkin is wary of the wounded beast.
“We know it’s going to be a much bigger challenge than what we’ve faced so far,” said the Welshman.
“I saw footage against Dragons and they were really unlucky to lose last weekend so they’ll be highly motivated. They’ve made some big signings and strengthened their pack so they’ll be on their game.
“We did some good things last weekend and we’re looking to continue on those improvements. We have to get our set-piece right and give our backs good possession.
“We owe them one as we feel we should have got a result last season. We feel if we can get parity up front we can get a result.”
After several physical encounters with Sarries in recent seasons, Tonkin predicted another big test awaits and he insists his side are ready to “go to war”.
“If we can compete in the scrum, lineout, maul, breakdown I feel we have the players that can get us a victory,” he said.
“We have two weeks off after this so we’ll go hell for leather to try and get the win. It’s going to be a physical battle and we’re going to go there ready for war.”