x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Crombie's grand entrance in UAE Premiership grand final

Sean Crombie made an immediate impact for the Jebel Ali Dragons, leading them over the table-topping Abu Dhabi Harlequins, writes Paul Radley.

The Sevens remained a favourite ground for Jebel Ali Dragons in head to head against Abu Dhabi Harlequins.
The Sevens remained a favourite ground for Jebel Ali Dragons in head to head against Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

DUBAI // As full debuts go, it was not bad. Sean Crombie only arrived in the country from his native Scotland 10 days ago. The ink is probably not even dry on his employment visa yet.

And yet after a match and a half in the UAE Premiership, he can already consider himself a Jebel Ali Dragons legend, having hauled the perennial bridesmaids of domestic rugby across the winning line last night.

He had only had 40 minutes as a replacement against Dubai Exiles to prove himself worthy of a place in the starting line-up for last night's grand final against the undefeated Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

That, and a rugby CV which includes professional contracts in both England and Scotland, an offer to play Currie Cup rugby and caps for Scotland's sevens side.

"He played a half against the Exiles last week and was outstanding, so he deserved his place," said Paul Hart, the Dragons captain.

"He is obviously a class player and a great addition for us. He was still playing Premiership rugby in February of last year."

It is funny how life works out in the world of rugby.

Crombie briefly lived with Jeremy Manning, the Harlequins playmaker, when both players were professionals at Newcastle Falcons in the English Premiership.

Manning has dominated UAE rugby since his arrival in the summer, but the arrival of his old colleague and housemate was like kryptonite.

Uncharacteristically Manning missed three shots at goal before limping off after 30 minutes with a knee injury.

It is a sign of the strength of the player pool in the capital that Quins could bring on the UAE international fly-half Murray Strang to replace Manning. Whatever they tried, however, was not enough, as the Jebel Ali side were never going to be denied.

The rampant Dragons built on Crombie's two tries with another late score for Byron Kraemer, the UAE flanker, plus a 13-point haul from the boot of the full-back, Andy Russell.

So newly off the plane, Crombie probably thinks it is always like this at the Dragons.

Hardly. Admittedly, they have a fine record of reaching the point where they can smell the lacquer on the silverware.

Then, in the recent past at least, the wheels have come off.

Hart, who delayed surgery on a fractured heel until next week in order to play, acknowledged last night's success had felt a long time coming. "We have enjoyed a lot of success as a club, we have a lot of history, and have dominated the sevens but in the last few years we have missed out in XVs," Hart said.

"Hopefully this will be the start of us turning the tables on that record. It feels very good because a lot of hard work has gone into it. I think we were deserving winners today." While Dragons were just victors on the evening, the final loss was a bitter pill for Quins to take.

They had won all five regular season matches of the Premiership. Defeat to the Dragons was just their second in any XVs match this calendar year.

The last one, by a single point against Dubai Hurricanes in February, also cost them last season's Premiership title.

"The guys are disappointed, I'm disappointed, but I know we are capable of doing better," said Chris Davies, the Harlequins director of rugby. "On a couple of occasions we didn't show composure, but all credit to the guys for the way they fought in the second half - a lot of sides would have crumbled under that pressure.

"They showed a great deal of character and it is important we draw a line under this and move on now. We have things to work on, just like the Dragons."

pradley@thenational.ae

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