ABU DHABI // Two new signings from the opposite ends of the elite rugby union spectrum combined to give Abu Dhabi Harlequins a valuable opening-night win over the revamped Jebel Ali Dragons at Zayed Sports City.
Jeremy Manning arrived in the capital this summer to start his new career as a fitness trainer with a hefty reputation, having played Heineken Cup rugby during his days as a professional. If the former Munster and Newcastle Falcons back is under pressure to deliver on that billing in this new, amateur climate, he certainly started in the best way possible.
His four penalties included two from near the halfway line, and he even chipped in with a cheeky, close-range try from a quick tap-penalty to complete a 17 point debut haul.
And yet Manning's was perhaps not even the most eye-catching debut of the first evening of Premiership rugby this season.
Imad Reyal, who has to commute to training in the capital when his day at the office in his IT job in Dubai ends, scored the opening try of the game in typically flamboyant fashion.
Having left Andy Russell, his UAE teammate, clutching thin air with a trademark sidestep, Reyal traded passes with the third of Quins' stellar summer recruits, Rama Chand, before crossing the whitewash.
The two new outside-backs are clearly already in sync; they even had an elaborate handshake routine worked out to celebrate the score.
Both players left clubs who are rebuilding to join one capable of challenging, instead. Chand's former teammates from Arabian Knights stuck around, having played their opening Conference fixture on the same field just before, and they delighted in his part in the try.
"That was a very tense game and we nearly lost our way in the last quarter, but a 'W' is a 'W' however we get it," said Chris Davies, the Quins director of rugby.
"Jeremy was top-drawer in terms of controlling the game, the presence he brought to our back-line, and the go-forward he gave us with his boot.
"Imad and Rama did very well for the try, so we have an abundance of choice in the backs now."
Defeat belied a powerful forward effort by the Dragons. The side from Jebel Ali overhauled their pack this summer, and they have evidently found some power which the rest of the Premiership will do well to resist.
Richie Leyden capped an outstanding performance at No 8 with a try to add to one by Taif Al Delamie, as the Dragons threatened a late comeback, to no avail.
"This game might have come a week or two too early for us, but we showed we [can dominate] sides up front," said Paul Hart, the Dragons second-row forward and captain.
It was also a good night for the Abu Dhabi Harlequins' second-string side who beat the Arabian Knights 22-5 tonight.
With a new name, new orange shirts and some fresh new faces straight out of school, the Knights have become accustomed to change in recent months.
Having taken a step back to the ranks of the Conference this season, the side formerly known as Toa Dubai had to get used to something else on the opening day of the season today: this division no longer resembles the one they left two years ago.
As one of the most progressive clubs in the country back then, Toa blazed a trailed through the Conference last time they were in the country’s second tier of domestic rugby.
Having had their progress checked in the Premiership last term, they opted to take a step back down to inject new life into their ranks this term.
It was their bad fortune that they faced last season’s champions in their first match.
Tries from Chris Marshall and Adam Crossley, allied to the accuracy of the boot of Aaron Sutherland, gave the hosts a big win.
The Knights had reason for optimism, however, in the form of a bright display from James Barrell, their teenaged scrum-half, and a try for Yannick Jullienne.
“We decided to accept the chance to move down a division as it gave us a chance to regroup as a club,” said John Mamea-Wilson, the Knights fly-half who was a founding member of Toa four years ago.
“It means there is slightly less pressure on the players when it comes to training. The merger with Knights has been fantastic for us.”
In the Premiership, Duncan Murray was able to celebrate his first game of serious rugby in 16 months with a victory, as Dubai Hurricanes began their title defence with a 29-0 win over the top division’s newcomers, Abu Dhabi Saracens.
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