If anyone was worried about whether Dubai Tigers could stand up to the rigours of West Asia Premiership level rugby, they were answered emphatically last week.
The newly promoted side gave Gulf rugby titans Abu Dhabi Harlequins an almighty fright before eventually going down 29-27 in the capital last Friday. It followed a respectable 39-5 loss at the hands of behemoths Bahrain on opening night.
So what’s in store for under the radar Jebel Ali Dragons in week three of the WAP this weekend? More of the same, presumably. Tigers are already beginning to earn their stripes after a second successive UAE Conference (now UAE Division 1) title was followed with accepting promotion to the top tier.
Dragons, meanwhile, are something of an unknown quantity after they followed glory in 2017/18 with an insipid title defence a year ago, a season in which they lacked puff.
“It’s another big game against a good side. We have been improving week on week and this week we can only look to do the same,” said Tigers’ stoic but focused veteran Jamie Clarke, a former UAE international who enjoyed significant success earlier in his career with Quins and Doha.
“We were close last week but couldn’t get it over the line, so this week we just try to be better and then let the results come from that.”
Dragons sat out week two so will be raring to test themselves against Tigers, according to coach Colin Phillips.
“It’s been a positive week at training with new combinations developing. The second team performances mean they are applying pressure on the first team squad to perform.
“Everyone’s looking forward to a tough battle with Tigers.”
Tigers and Dragons tussle at Dubai Sports City in the early kick-off on Friday, while one of the two other games sees Bahrain in Dubai to take on Exiles at The Sevens. This should be a sumptuous showdown between the two sides who contested last season’s Premiership final.
Bahrain won 14 of their 15 league games last year, beaten only by Jacques Benade’s Exiles, who then ran them ferociously close in the final where Bahrain ultimately scraped home by 23-21.
And Adam Wallace, new head coach of the champions, can’t wait for what he anticipates will be a close contest.
“We’re really looking forward to it. We’re expecting a big challenge and a good, physical game,” said the former captain, who has stepped onto the sidelines this season.
“They always go well at home and we know they will be on form after beating Hurricanes last week. This is the only game we lost last year so we’ll be looking to go one better this weekend and hopefully solidify our position as contenders again this year.
“Big games like this are what it’s all about and it’s why you play the game. You want to be in these tight contests and challenge yourself and if it all goes well on the day and you get the result you worked for, it makes it all the more rewarding.
“We have a few issues with unavailability and injuries this week so we have a makeshift squad. But I’m confident that whoever represents Bahrain at the weekend will be up for the challenge.”
In Friday’s other fixture, Quins are also in Dubai at Knights Eagles. Quins will hope to make it three wins from three against the newly-amalgamated outfit who have been handed a tough start to the season. They lost their opening pair of fixtures against Canes and in Bahrain last week and will be hoping to avoid conceding 50 points for the third successive week.
“From a first team perspective it’s a chance to go three from three against a really solid Knights Eagles team who have perhaps been a little unlucky In previous matches,” said Quins coach Niall Lear.
“We know we have to be better than we were against the Tigers – this week has been tough for the boys but I am hopeful that come Friday night we get the reaction and performance from the guys we want.
“With a few unavailable players we have had to make some changes and that will test our squad depth but that’s the same for everyone in this league so no complaints. On a big positive we welcome back Chris McKee from injury and he will bring a real energy and enthusiasm to the team from the back row.”
4pm Dubai Tigers v Jebel Ali Dragons
5pm Dubai Exiles v Bahrain
5pm Dubai Knights Eagles v Abu Dhabi Harlequins
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