x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Defending champions in the UAE Premiership are given a helping hand by their new acquisition from Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

A Jebel Ali Dragons player is tackled by an Abu Dhabi Harlequins player. Duncan Chard for the National
A Jebel Ali Dragons player is tackled by an Abu Dhabi Harlequins player. Duncan Chard for the National

DUBAI // Imad Reyal and Murray Strang combined to thwart their former clubmates as Jebel Ali Dragons began their UAE Premiership defence with victory over Abu Dhabi Harlequins last night.

Each swapped the green and red of Quins for the blue of Jebel Ali this summer, and both scored tries on debut in the 24-16 victory at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence.

If Reyal’s score was predictable, given he is widely renowned for his finishing ability, Strang’s was perhaps less so.

The Scottish player-coach is known for having an unerring boot and being a prolific point-scorer from the kicking tee, but less so for his try-scoring.

However, the fly-half does have a penchant for scoring poignant tries. At the 2011 Dubai Rugby Sevens, Strang crossed the whitewash against the land of his birth, Scotland, in his debut IRB competition playing for his adopted country, the UAE.

And the former Quin admitted it felt similarly strange to score against the club he had played all his rugby for since moving to the UAE in 2008.

“Billy Graham, the Quins captain, said some very nice words in the changing room which was emotional for me, having been with them for five years,” Strang said.

“For him to say I have been integral to what they have done for five years and wish me all the best meant a lot because it was a big step for me to join the Dragons.

“Scoring in an international match in front of 40,000 people against Scotland, who I’d supported for 31 years before playing against them, I don’t think that will never be bettered.

“But I had thought about finishing my career with rugby and moving away from Quins for a long time.

“Having moved, it was really important to me to hold my own against them, so I am absolutely delighted.”

Dubai Hurricanes made light work of their midweek availability issues by taking a 16-5 win away to Abu Dhabi Saracens at Zayed Sports City.

The 2012 Premiership champions saw two players who were expected to feature prominently for them this season walk out on them in the week leading up to the season opener.

The late defection of Paul Beard and Mark Hibbs went unnoticed though as the Hurricanes claimed a battling win on the road.

“Our club is built on friendship and that will always be the case,” said Chris Gregory, the Hurricanes hooker.

“It seems like a lot of clubs have had a few problems in the summer, and it will take a week or two to settle down, but we are happy to have started with a good win.”

In the battle of old and new at The Sevens, Dubai Exiles, the city’s longest-established club, dispatched the progressive Xodus Wasps 20-7.

The two sides have each made rapid advances in their finance departments off the field this summer, by way of hefty sponsorship deals with major commercial groups.

However, it was the country’s most historic club which won out on the playing field on the opening night.

Happily for the Exiles, two or their three tries were scored by players who still qualify for under 18s rugby, with replacement wings Janneman Venter and Josh Appleby each touching down.

“We are trying to build a club,” Jan Venter, the coach said.

“There were around 50 Exiles players, including injured guys, at the post-match function and everyone was enjoying themselves. This is what we have worked towards.”