DUBAI // In the absence of several of the leading players in UAE rugby, let alone the Abu Dhabi Harlequins roster, the capital's leading club had to rely on some unusual means for point-scoring yesterday.
A 25-12 victory in their opening Gulf Top Six fixture against Dubai Exiles was founded on two tries for Charles Lilley - a feat the veteran hooker reckons has not happened since the late 1990s, when the Spice Girls were in their pomp.
"It has been a long time since I got two in a game – it's been a long time since I even got one," said the Quins and UAE front-rower. "Our backs have been dominant so far all season, so it was time for us forwards to step up."
The Harlequins' forward focus was born from necessity. First, there was the absence of the likes of Imad Reyal, Jeremy Manning and Murray Strang in their backline.
The windy weather was also better suited to an up-the-jumper, 10-man game plan than the conditions that usually prevail in this part of the world.
Then they had to contend with the fact they were up against an Exiles side who were playing an expansive, attacking game inspired by their recent strong form in the sevens sphere.
Even though the Quins managed five tries, with Anthony Murphy, Graham Murphy and Ben Bolger embellishing Lilley's brace, the try of the day was scored by an Exile. When Michael Stubbs touched down a sweeping move in the corner, the hosts even held a surprise early lead.
"It was a very positive performance and I am extremely proud of the lads," said Jan Venter, the Exiles coach.
"I asked them to play an expansive game. At some points we were a little hasty and the final pass didn't go to hand. But looking forward, the Exiles are going to be a forced to be reckoned with."
Despite the fact they put 62 points on the same opposition when they last met, the visitors enjoyed plenty of positives, too, not least a bonus point for their five-try haul.
Ed Talbot returned to the field for the first time since suffering a serious shoulder injury in November, 2011.
And Bolger's bright display as a second-half replacement, capped by a try, belied the fact he was playing his first 15-a-side union match in five years, after recently leaving behind a professional career in rugby league with London Broncos.
"It was a difficult game and we spent a lot of it defending, but when we got into the red zone, we made it count," said Chris Davies, the Quins director of rugby.
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