x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Harlequins fail to blow Dubai Hurricanes off course

Playing in a sandstorm, the Dubai side dispelled reports of their demise with a rousing win against their main rivals for the UAE Premiership.

Harlequins’ Ali Thompson, right, wins the ball from a lineout.
Harlequins’ Ali Thompson, right, wins the ball from a lineout.

ABU DHABI // As the sandstorm blew across the capital yesterday, Dubai Hurricanes appropriately found an ally in the conditions as they confirmed they are still a leading force in UAE rugby.

Harlequins and Hurricanes have divvied up most of the major titles over the past four years, but the evidence of the first half of this season had suggested it was the Abu Dhabi side who were now the ones in the ascendant.

Harlequins last month won the Gulf Top Six - which previously belonged to Hurricanes - and had started the new UAE Premiership campaign in dominant fashion, too.

However, the Hurricanes proved that reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated when their new-look side claimed a rousing win on opposition soil.

The Dubai side have earned their share of trophies by playing a quick, running game, but this success was built on a close, forward-dominated strategy, which suited the windy weather.

"It is just the way the side has developed," said Chris Gregory, the captain, who appeared in the front row, back row and at scrum half at various points of the game.

"All the forwards used to be my size in the past, so we had to play a fast game.

"Now we have found some bigger guys, and it suits running off the back of mauls. Once that gets rolling it is difficult to stop."

The sight of James Ham calling the shots from the sidelines as the Hurricanes coach was a reminder of just how difficult this campaign has been for the club.

Were it not for a long-standing leg injury, which he exacerbated recently playing five-a-side football, he would have been knocking over the goal-kicks for the champions here.

He has made himself useful while he continues his rehabilitation, however, filling in after Steve Holohan, the former coach, returned to his native Wales due to health reasons. That makes it five coaching changes in three seasons for the Hurricanes.

"It is not about the coaches telling the players to come to training, it is about them wanting to come to training," Ham said, after a win which was built on fine individual displays from Guy Potter and Tom Goodhew.

"Once you get a few wins, that looks after itself. It is about getting on that roll again, and hopefully we have got that now."

Defeat put a halt to the seemingly inexorable march the Quins were on, and Chris Davies, their director of rugby, acknowledged it might have been a reality check they needed.

"Without a doubt we were second best, and not just on the scoreboard," Davies said.

"We looked lacklustre and it seemed like we needed them to score for us to start playing. Then when we did go in front, we didn't look comfortable."

pradley@thenational.ae