It’s been a strange season for Dubai Hurricanes, too good to be mired down in a relegation battle, yet seemingly unable to quite break into the elite of the West Asia Premiership.
While Abu Dhabi Harlequins, Jebel Ali Dragons, Dubai Exiles and Bahrain battle for the title and Abu Dhabi Saracens and Dubai Eagles scrap to avoid finishing bottom of the table, Canes find themselves marooned in mid-table.
Defeat to fierce rivals Exiles was a fifth loss in eight games this season. Their three wins have come home and away against Sarries, the other at Eagles, but captain Dave Knight feels they have no-one to blame but themselves.
“We’re very disappointed after last week so are looking to bounce back,” Knight said of last week’s 36-11 loss to Exiles.
“We feel like we are good enough to be in that top four but we are our own worst enemy and can’t seem to put a complete performance in.
“It’s a must win this week and hopefully will give us some confidence going forward.”
Eagles, meanwhile, will look to bounce back from their own demoralising defeat to Sarries last week, when they take on a solid Canes side.
For Eagles captain Conor Coakley, coach Andrew O’Driscoll and scrum-half Josh Ives, it’s a particularly poignant encounter as they’ll be heading to their former home at The Sevens.
“For me personally, I used to play for Hurricanes so I’m looking forward to it,” said Coakley.
“I’ve got some good friends there and I’m looking forward to a tough, gritty game. They’ve got a big pack now but I think we’re going to match them.
“We’ve had a couple of difficult weeks, but the guys have responded really well. On Sunday we hit the gym together at Dubai Sports City and had a good chat about the game.
“We got together Monday night and got focused, I loved the attitude. We’ve definitely got a focus for this game. It means a lot to the team. We thought in the last encounter (Canes lost 28-12) it was a close one and we didn’t feel there was much between us, so we’re targeting a win.”
Elsewhere on Friday, Bahrain may have been bloodied following back-to-back West Asia Premiership defeats – their first two of the season – but they will be buoyed as they get set to welcome Abu Dhabi Saracens for the first of four straight home games.
Louie Tonkin’s men came off worse in defeat to Jebel Ali Dragons and Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the last two weeks with Dubai Exiles leapfrogging them as they slid six points off the pace.
But after a testing period, Tonkin’s side can now look to recover with some favourable home fixtures, while the Welshman is also relishing the return of several injured players, including skipper and last year’s player of the season, Adam Wallace.
Even though the home run begins with the visit of lowly Sarries, Tonkin will be aware his side are facing a team fresh from their first win of the season against Dubai Eagles last week – a victory that saw Sarries halt a run of seven straight defeats.
“We have four games at home and two of which are against Exiles and Dragons, so we’re very much still in the picture (for the title),” said Tonkin.
“But, we know we have to win all our games now.
“We’re also chuffed we are finally getting to welcome back some of our best backs from last year. Greg Heath, our top try scorer, and Adam Wallace, our player of the year, who have both been out since the Western Clubs Champions League. And also our 10, Ross Preedy, who’s back from his ACL reconstruction.”
Travelling away, especially outside the UAE, is always a tall order for teams, but Sarries can take huge comfort from last week’s win, which saw them come off the foot of the table.
And captain Jonny Taylor said: “The mood has been really good this week. A few new faces have also arrived which is great news for the club.”
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