x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Harlequins unmoved by challenge from city rivals Saracens

For all their recent advances, Abu Dhabi Saracens still have a ways to go to catch their neighbours Harlequins.

Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in red, ran in six tries on Friday to win 38-13 and see off the challenge of their city rivals, Abu Dhabi Saracens. Satish Kumar / The National
Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in red, ran in six tries on Friday to win 38-13 and see off the challenge of their city rivals, Abu Dhabi Saracens. Satish Kumar / The National

ABU DHABI // For all the advances Abu Dhabi Saracens have made of late, they still have to defer to their neighbours at Harlequins on the field for now.

The progressive three-year-old club were convincingly beaten in the second capital derby on Friday, as Quins showed signs of a return to the form that made them title contenders last season.

“It was a hard-fought match, as you’d expect from a local derby,” said Winston Cowie, the Quins forwards coach who took charge of the team in the absence of Jeremy Manning. “It is great to see two teams in Abu Dhabi, as it shows the amount of depth there is here now.

“We were pretty hungry to get our season started. The boys fronted up, were accurate and I thought we played some really good rugby. It has kick-started our season.”

Although the Capital Cup is growing in prestige as Saracens try to close the gap on their long-established rivals, this second edition felt like anything but the only show in town.

The teams were vying for space during warm-ups as the neighbouring field had been commandeered by one of the sides preparing for football’s Under 17 World Cup.

The players were also concerned they might be squeezed out of their usual post-match function setting, seeing as WWE wrestling had taken over the tennis stadium. In addition, Quins earned their win without several leading lights. Manning, the player-coach, was unavailable due to work commitments, while two summer arrivals with international experience, Paul Beard and Simon Osborne, were also absent. It appeared to count for little, though, as they ran in six tries to two, inspired by a powerful display by Phil Brady in the forward pack.

Saracens’ result was exacerbated by the loss of their captain, Lele Tusitala, to injury.

He missed much of last season with a broken arm and was taken to the hospital with what looked to be a similar injury.

“In terms of physicality and ability, we think we are on par with these guys,” said Dougie Steele, the Saracens half-back. “But they have been a tight group for a long time now. Some of our guys haven’t been playing for as long as theirs, and they caught us off guard a few times.”

pradley@thenational.ae