x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Harlequins cook up a performance to win UAE Cup

Tireless loose forward Sam Cook capped a fine display in the final with the decisive try, even though he had not been expecting to start the game against Dubai Hurricanes.

SHARJAH , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Mar 23 : Nick Ashford ( center in blue helmet ) of Dubai Hurricanes in action during the final match between Dubai Hurricanes ( yellow ) vs Abu Dhabi Harlequins ( green ) at Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club in Sharjah. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For Sports. Story by Paul
SHARJAH , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Mar 23 : Nick Ashford ( center in blue helmet ) of Dubai Hurricanes in action during the final match between Dubai Hurricanes ( yellow ) vs Abu Dhabi Harlequins ( green ) at Sharjah Wanderers Sports Club in Sharjah. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For Sports. Story by Paul

SHARJAH // Sam Cook, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins flanker, started yesterday morning as the back-up No 6 for his club side, but he ended last night as a shoo-in to start in the back row for the UAE national team.

The tireless loose forward capped a fine display in the UAE Cup final with the decisive try, even though he had not been expecting to start the game against Dubai Hurricanes.

Renier Els, the man in possession of the No 6 jersey, pulled out on the morning of the game with food poisoning, handing his understudy a chance to impress. He seized it with brio.

"Sam was everywhere today," said Chris Davies, the Harlequins director of rugby. "He has been out of the side for two weeks, so perhaps he was fresh. His performance was outstanding."

No matter what happens on Friday, when the Hurricanes play Doha to decide the best side in west Asia, they know they have surrendered the UAE bragging rights to the capital side for the summer, at least.

These clubs have divided the main trophies between themselves over recent seasons. For Quins, this trophy provided a neat bookend to a triumphant campaign that had started with them winning the Gulf Top Six.

"I don't know if it makes us the best in the UAE, but at least it does for tonight," Davies said.

"We have been consistently good, and this puts us back on the map after losing to the Hurricanes in the Premiership."

Judging by the way this final at times nearly boiled over, more was at stake than just a trophy. With the UAE paring down their squad for the forthcoming Asian Five Nations, a number of players were pressing their case in the most robust fashion they could muster.

Each of these sides were missing key personnel. Tom Goodhew, the influential Hurricanes scrum-half, was out with a hand injury, while Els, the Quins flanker, was another notable absentee.

However, neither side suffered. The national team would have been grateful for the quality of replacements, let alone two club sides. Chris Gregory, the Hurricanes captain, covered Goodhew's absence himself, having played in the back row of late.

On the other side, Cook borrowed the No 6 shirt from Els for this game. So outstanding was the blindside flanker's display, and in front of the onlooking UAE selectors, he should now have first claim on the position for the national team when the Five Nations campaign begins next month.

His performance proved the difference, but the defeated Hurricanes will still head to Qatar in good heart.

"We still want to be the No 1 side in the Gulf, and maybe this defeat will spur us on to achieve that in Doha," James Ham, the Hurricanes coach, said.

Meanwhile, Jebel Ali Dragons cemented their reputation as the masters of rugby’s abbreviated formats in this country as they won yesterday’s Sharjah 10s.

The Dragons have begun to earn an unwanted reputation as the bridesmaids of the 15-a-side game in the UAE.

They were well placed to win both the Gulf Top Six and the UAE Premiership this season, before final defeats in both left them empty-handed.

They then lost out in extra-time in their UAE Cup semi-final against Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

However, it has been far from a blank campaign for them. Last week it was confirmed they had been awarded a first international match at the home ground they moved to 16 months ago.

They will host the UAE’s Asian Five Nations tie against Kazakhstan in May.

Having already won the Dubai Rugby Sevens title in December, they added the country’s top 10s competition to the trophy cabinet.

Tries from Ian Overton and Taif Al Delamie laid the platform for their win over Sharjah Wanderers, the host club, in the final.

“We are the kings of the short formats, but we just keep falling a couple of points short when it comes to the [15-a-side] game,” Shane Thornton, the Dragons coach, said.

“It is a good way to end the season and the boys are really happy to get the monkey off our backs.”

UAE Shaheen, the Emirati development side, won one and lost two of their matches in the 10s event at the Wanderers.

The Abu Dhabi Harlequins second string, who were all-conquering in the league season, were beaten in the UAE Bowl final by Dubai Hurricanes’ second XV.

Ian Greenhoff, the Hurricanes captain, and Luke Kettlewell scored tries, and James Elliot-Square kicked 10 points in the 20-12 win.

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