Top spot in the West Asia Premiership is up for grabs for both Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Dubai Exiles this weekend as they go in search of victories to usurp leaders Bahrain.
Exiles are sat in second on 13 points, three behind the reigning champions, and will aim to make it a fourth win in a row after they were awarded a contentious 31-0 bonus point victory against previously unbeaten Quins last week.
Quins had sought to re-arrange their scheduled game last Friday on the basis of a front row injury crisis, but the two rivals could not come to an agreement and Quins were forced into a forfeit, which brings with it a 31-0 bonus point victory for the opposing team. Additionally for this season, league organisers Gulf Rugby have included a two-point deduction for the forfeiting team – something that has left a bitter taste in the mouths for Quins.
Exiles this week travel to Jebel Ali to take on Dragons in a Thursday evening kick-off. Jacques Benade’s men now boast the only unbeaten record and will look to keep that going against a home side that earned their first win of the season last week when they beat Dubai Knights Eagles 38-20.
Quins are also on the road and head to The Sevens to take on Dubai Hurricanes, who are hoping to avoid a third-straight defeat after their 35-9 reversal in Bahrain last week. Niall Lear’s side will also want to get over the disappointment of their forfeit and the men from the capital could still end the weekend back on top of the table should they earn a bonus point win and Exiles lose in Jebel Ali.
Surprise package of the season so far, Dubai Tigers are back in action after a bye week. They beat Dragons last time out and the UAE Conference champions will be aiming to make it back-to-back victories against struggling Knights Eagles.
West Asia Premiership fixtures
8pm Jebel Ali Dragons v Dubai Exiles
5pm Dubai Knights Eagles v Dubai Tigers
6pm Dubai Hurricanes v Abu Dhabi Harlequins
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Jebel Ali Dragons climbed off the bottom of the West Asia Premiership as they won for the first time this season following previous back-to-back defeats.
Dragons beat Dubai Knights Eagles 38-20 in an entertaining game to move on to six points after three games, moving level with Dubai Hurricanes after their defeat in Bahrain.
“I’m pleased for the boys. They’ve been training well and working hard,” said Dragons head coach Colin Phillips.
“What we’ve been working on was evident in large spells. Eagles never gave up and kept the pressure on us.”
With their first win on the board, Phillips insists the club want to back up this result in their next three games – they face Dubai Exiles, Canes and Bahrain before the league takes a break at the end of November for the sevens season.
“We have a physical three weeks coming that the club are looking forward to,” added Phillips.
Bahrain eased to a 35-9 win over Canes to bounce back from their maiden loss of the campaign the previous week against Exiles – who were not in action but earned a bonus point win after Abu Dhabi Harlequins were forced to forfeit their scheduled clash at Zayed Sports City because of a shortage of front-row players.
Bahrain coach Adam Wallace was happy for the reigning champions to get back to winning ways and was appreciative of a traveling Canes side depleted by injury.
Wallace said: “We went well. We managed to execute our game plan a lot better than we did against Exiles and we saw the benefit from that.
“They were struggling with injuries and lads unable to travel, but regardless they fulfilled the fixture which was really important so I appreciate that massively.”
There was a massive furore ahead of the weekend’s action, with Quins begrudgingly forfeiting their fixture with Exiles as the two could not agree on a postponement and league chiefs Gulf Rugby not having a protocol in place for insufficient front row numbers.
Exiles were awarded a 31-0 victory and five-point bonus win, while in addition Quins were docked two points for the forfeit.
West Asia Premiership results:
Bahrain 35 Dubai Hurricanes 9
Jebel Ali Dragons 38 Dubai Knights Eagles 20
Abu Dhabi Harlequins v Dubai Exiles (forfeited by Harlequins)
Niall Lear is new to UAE rugby but got his first proper taste of the fierce rivalries it houses this week when Abu Dhabi Harlequins were forced to forfeit their crunch top of the table West Asia Premiership with Dubai Exiles due to an injury crisis.
UAE international prop Craig Nutt is in South Africa celebrating his wedding, which other first-choice front rower Murray Reason is also attending. Quins knew about this when the fixtures were released in August but have subsequently been hit by a raft of other front row injuries in the wake of their last game against Dubai Knights Eagles – ruling four more eligible props out of Friday’s scheduled game with Exiles.
Gulf Rugby refused to allow Quins to switch the game to another day or re-arrange for later in the season – unless Exiles consented. They did not and Lear says the club feels it was backed into a corner and forced to take the option of forfeiting – which not only brings with it a 31-0 loss, but also a two-point deduction.
In previous years a forfeit would mean an automatic 20-0 bonus point victory for the opposition. Lear is bamboozled by new laws from Gulf Rugby Management – the sport’s new governing body in the Emirates – and claims Quins have been punished twice.
“It’s not the spirit of rugby,” said Lear, who had previously led Quins to an unbeaten start to the new campaign, winning three games straight following his appointment in the summer.
“We’ve forfeited. It’s Craig Nutt’s wedding so a few boys are away and they’re not back this weekend, which we always knew about.
“Against Knights Eagles we picked up four more front row injuries and those boys still aren’t fit. Coupled with that, we have two others we’d normally name as replacements but they haven’t played this year yet because they’re injured.
“We approached Gulf Rugby and asked if there are any protocols in place because we’re struggling. I said the only thing I could do was bring third team or vets props up but I don’t think that’s fair because it’s a health and safety thing and a lot of them are well into their 40s.
“They came back and said ‘absolutely not’. The only way it could be postponed or moved to another day was if Exiles agreed, and they did not agree. One of the permutations we gave them was we said we’d double up for the away game later in the season so it would count as double points but they weren’t particularly keen to do that. It’s their prerogative. It is what it is.”
Lear admitted he knew Nutt and Reason – who have both represented Apollo Perelini’s UAE – would be away during this period when the fixtures were released. But he said he had no need to raise the issue with Gulf Rugby at the time because he felt Quins could cope.
“I didn’t make a song and dance about this in August so it comes down to whether Exiles want to agree,” added the Scotsman.
“Part of the reason we didn’t (make a fuss) was because it was just two props being away. Then we’ve had a raft of injuries which you can’t account for.
“I initiated contact with Exiles three weeks ago and got very little back and so Steve (McCaffrey, competitions manager at Gulf Rugby) had to intervene.
“From our point of view it’s not bitching and moaning, it’s a shame there’s no common sense utilised and we’ve had to go down this route, because we tried to provide alternatives.
“We went to extremes to make sure the game went ahead. We offered them (Exiles) suitable dates (to replay) but it’s their prerogative.
“We’ve agreed to change three or four games already this season throughout the club – from kick-off times and dates – because we want everyone playing rugby.
“Winning at all costs isn’t for us. We’ve made a call we know is the right one, but I know this whole process could have been handled better.”
Exiles fired back at the criticism aimed their way though, saying that had they accepted Quins’ proposal, it would have been to their detriment.
Interim Exiles chairman Rob Riding said the club would have been left “compromised” had they agreed to a switch of the fixture.
Riding explained: “Harlequins approached Exiles and Gulf Rugby Management with a request to move the fixture. Their explanation was that they didn’t have a front row.
“We looked at the proposed dates, and they would have compromised us. One in December, after the (Dubai) Sevens, when half our first team would not be available, because they are teachers.
“The other on a date which would have meant a double header for us. We did not feel it fair to compromise our season.
“It was also outside the agreed three-week window of notification. I did find it interesting that their second team played a fixture that weekend with a front row.
“Also I believe that weddings are normally planned further in advance, this was the reason for their request.”
Teams who regularly earned forfeit victories in previous seasons had bemoaned that a 20-0 win did not reflect substantial enough compensation for what was, at one point, a regular spate of cancellations.
But now, domestic rugby chiefs appear to have gone overboard with sanctions.
“Rather than just a loss it’s a seven-point turn. It’s like we’re being punished twice,” added Lear, a schoolteacher.
“There’s no hard feelings against Gulf Rugby or Exiles, I would have just hoped this situation could have been managed better.
“We had three options: play the game, despite the health and safety issues, technically I think it would make me liable; uncontested scrums which would result in a 31-0 loss anyway; or take the 31-0 loss and be docked two points. We have had to go for option three.”
The cancellation of the game will now see Exiles go to 18 points at the top of the table, allowing Bahrain the chance to leapfrog Quins into second spot, providing they win at home to visiting Dubai Hurricanes. Quins were on 13 but drop to 11 points – level with Bahrain – following the two-point deduction.
In the other Friday fixture, the league’s two winless teams meet in Jebel Ali as Dragons host Dubai Knights Eagles.
West Asia Premiership Fixtures:
Bahrain v Dubai Hurricanes
Abu Dhabi Harlequins v Dubai Exiles (forfeited by Harlequins)
Jebel Ali Dragons v Dubai Knights Eagles