DUBAI // Given the winners will take a place in the UAE Premiership final and the losers will be left with nothing, there is already enough riding on Friday’s meeting between Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Dubai Hurricanes.
There is a little extra spice, too, though. It is the first time Hurricanes will be reacquainted with two players they had anticipated would play a big part in their own title push, only to see them switch allegiance to Quins on the eve of the season.
Paul Beard and Mark Hibbs moved from Doha in the summer and joined the Dubai club. They then had a last-minute change of heart when it meant being reunited with their former captain in Qatar, Winston Cowie, who is now the Quins forwards coach.
The lateness of their departure left Hurricanes’ plans for the new campaign in shreds, but Guy Potter, their captain, says they bear no animosity towards the duo.
“It will be nice to see them again,” said Potter, the UAE international flanker.
“It’s a free world and they had the luxury of choice. I’m sure we’ll socialise with them after the game, but until then they’re Quins and we are Canes and we have a job to do.”
Hibbs will likely start in the back row for the side from the capital, meaning he will be in direct opposition to Lindsay Fitzgerald, his former back-row colleague in Doha.
Beard has been named among the replacements, having missed the past two games due to holiday.
“We are looking forward to it as it is such an important game,” said Beard, the Abu Dhabi-born full-back.
“Other than the fact there is a place in the final at stake, it is just another game of rugby. I have never taken anything personally in rugby.”
Harlequins contested every major final in domestic rugby last year, while their visitors from Dubai suffered a rare blank campaign.
Potter says it feels good for the team to be back competing at the top again.
“We have strength in depth this year to the first-team squad,” the Hurricanes captain said.
“We have such a strong bench. Long gone are the days when you would have an injury and you’d be scratching your head and be thinking ‘that leaves us vulnerable’.
“We haven’t had that at all this year, which for a captain is a luxury. It is good to have it in our hands again, but last week’s results are proof that anything can happen.”