There are just three games left to see who will be crowned 2015-16 UAE Premiership champions – the only problem is we’ll have to wait nearly five months to discover who that will be.
With the campaign entering its mid-season break and attention turning to next month’s Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens and the revamped West Asia Championship in January, however, it’s a chance to reflect on the season so far.
What had initially appeared to be an Abu Dhabi Harlequins parade towards a second successive Premiership trophy is turning out to be quite the titanic title tussle, with capital city rivals Saracens and a resurgent Dubai Exiles now also in the frame.
After Exiles pushed Quins mighty close in round four – a last minute Barry Dwyer try clinching a thrilling 22-18 win – their unbeaten run finally came to an end at the home of neighbours Sarries.
Just three points separate them heading into the break, champions Quins and challengers Exiles locked at the top on 28, reigning West Asia champions Sarries just adrift on 25.
Despite having plenty to occupy their minds over the next few months, you can be sure this trio will be keeping one eye on March 25, 2016, the day the Premiership returns.
“We’re not content. The Sarries loss left a sour taste and we’re looking to put that right,” said Quins flanker Ben Bolger. “We’re hungry to keep achieving and it’s important now to not let ourselves go too much over Christmas and keep working hard.
“Exiles were whipping boys last year, now they’re in the title race. There’s an interesting three-way battle so may the best team win, but there’s more to come from Quins.”
To maintain their scorching start to the season has been all the more impressive as Quins have seen around 20 players injured, which shows the scary depths their talent pool treads.
Exiles director of rugby Jacques Benade has been impressed with how well his side have bonded, despite a raft of new faces.
— Gulf Rugby Paper (@GulfRugbyPaper) November 8, 2015
“I’m delighted with the performances so far,” said the South African.
“When I arrived I said I wanted to be competitive, but if you’d told me we’d be one of the three top teams and fighting for the title I’d have had trouble believing it.
“A lot of the credit goes to the boys. They’ve been working very hard and they’ve come together. We’ve recruited well but lots of boys were already here or came from other Dubai teams.
“Everyone is enjoying working and playing for each other and hopefully we can build and go from here.”
Sarries’ 20-18 win against Quins a few weeks ago really opened the title race up and joint head coach Stephen Hamilton feels his side are growing.
“I’m extremely positive about the season so far,” said Hamilton, the centre who has been masquerading at scrum-half this season and doing so with aplomb.
“A few results didn’t go our way but you learn more from your defeats and we’ve grown a lot as a team. I’m excited about where we’re at.
“We’ve got Quins and Exiles under a little bit of pressure now and we’re there to challenge.”
Great day in Sharjah! No signs of stopping! pic.twitter.com/XJs5rfLIOG
— SharjahWanderersRFC (@SharjahRugby) November 6, 2015
Elsewhere, it’s been a disappointing season for Dubai Hurricanes, Jebel Ali Dragons and Al Ain Amblers.
Canes are comfortably fourth but seem unable to bridge the gap to the top three, while fallen giants of UAE rugby Dragons are on a steep learning curve back to salvation.
Amblers’ return to the Premiership certainly hasn’t gone to plan.
“I’s been a struggle for us in the first part of the season,” said head coach Andrew Rouvi.
“While we showed glimpses of what we are capable of, we have a lot of work to do. I believe we have one of the best backlines in the competition. The challenge we have is being competitive up front. The team is still positive about the second part of the season.”
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