Dubai College (DC) have long been regarded as the leading rugby school in the UAE but the competition is catching up. And nobody is breathing harder down their necks than the British School Al Khubairat (BSAK).
The pair clashed for the UAE Schools League Under 18 title last year and though DC came out winners (20-17), their director of sport, Andy Jones, acknowledged the great strides their opponents had made.
And they are getting closer; at the Zayed Sports City yesterday, DC eked out a 12-10 win over BSAK in the U18 league, in a game dominated in a number of areas by the vanquished.
The win puts DC top of the league but was effectively a dress rehearsal for the final to be played next month.
The game was a physical one and though BSAK trailed 3-12 with a couple of minutes to go, closely contested.
"The BSAK boys are very large, very physical and very well-conditioned," said Jones. "They are a very good side. So we are delighted by the result. We were a slightly weakened squad suffering from quite a few injuries, but we came down with our squad and just pulled through."
It was BSAK's physicality in particular that impressed Jones, dominating the scrums and putting a lot of pressure at the line-outs.
"They've improved again and their level of physicality is immense," said Jones. "They are a very well-drilled, accomplished side and for large periods of the game we were under pressure. We've got a very talented group of boys who dealt with the pressure and were able to break away a few times. But it was a very even game and more than that a very intense game. A great advert for U18 rugby in the Gulf."
DC's Tom Summers touched down a try, but James Bywater, their highly regarded fly-half, controlled the game, grabbing a try up the right flank as well. As well as those two, Jones paid tribute to their prop Ali Alami.
"He was outstanding," Jones said. "Because they're so physical, he had to step up and he really did and dealt with a lot of the physicality, keeping our pack together. James [Bywater] again controlled the game with his superb kicking but really this was 50-50. We were more fortunate on the day."
BSAK lost to DC in the at The Sevens in December as well, but their director of rugby, Edward Lewsey, feels they are getting closer. Lewsey, brother of England Rugby World Cup winner Josh, was left to rue an inability to turn control and pressure into points.
The replacement fly-half Charlie Fulbrook scored a try with two minutes remaining but possession was lost thereafter and DC were more than happy to run the clock down.
"We squandered a few chances, three clear chances," Lewsey said. "It was just that level of composure in the attacking third to come away with a try or some points that ultimately cost us the game.
Lewsey was happy, however, with the performances of the captain and No 8 Kyle Knox, the fullback Sean Tiernay and Christy McCormick. "I thought we played the best we played all season today and quite dominant in some areas. Kyle was absolutely supreme, outstanding and Sean and Christy were really good as well."
The game was useful, however, in terms of when the teams might next meet in the final.
"We're the two best schools in the UAE and pretty level in some ways," said Lewsey. "We know DC have a lot of strengths.
"Their full back is fantastic and he's very quick and dangerous. Bywater is a really good player and he controls the game very well. In both games he scored a crucial try, so he's the man to mark up."
The win sealed a good day all-round for DC.
Their U16 side were comfortable winners 32-10, while the U12 side triumphed 25-5. The U14 sides, however, finished level 12-12.