x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Glorious farewell for Arabian Gulf

The Arabian Gulf refused to go gently into extinction as they saved the finest display of their 17 years as an international rugby team for the very last.

The Gulf's Michael Riley, centre, fends off a tackle by a Korean player.
The Gulf's Michael Riley, centre, fends off a tackle by a Korean player.

DUBAI // The Arabian Gulf refused to go gently into extinction last night as they saved the finest display of their 17 years as an international rugby team for the very last. The lights looked set to go out early on their challenge, both physically and metaphorically, when a floodlight pylon failed while they were trailing early in the second-half. However, the damage was repaired, first by the ground's technicians, then by a masterclass from the Gulf fly-half, Duncan Murray.

Trailing 14-6 at half-time to a Korea side ranked 20 places above the Gulf in the IRB standings, the home side had a mountain to cilmb. But Murray, the Dubai Hurricanes No10, brought the hosts back into the game when he barrelled over for their first try after the interval. He also had a significant say in the go-ahead score shortly after, when he evaded numerous would-be tacklers, with fine off-loading from the Gulf players eventually leading to Trent Eastgate diving over.

James Love's kicking took the hosts seven points clear, but they could still have been deprived victory when Jae Young Chae, the Korea wing, went over deep in injury time at the end. But victory was theirs when the ensuing conversion drifted wide of the upright. It was the Gulf's second victory in this year's Asian Five Nations. By the time the next one comes around, the Gulf will have split into by its six member nations.

The home players were struggling to harness the emotion of the occasion, judging by the fact it was Korea who settled faster. They were rewarded for their early pressure with a try 12 minutes in, for their scrum-half, Wan Yong Park. The score seemed to be the spark the Gulf needed to snap them from their lethargy, and they hit back with two penalties from the prolific boot of Love, the student winger.

However, the visitors held a comfortable 14-6 half-time lead when, moments after having a try chalked off for a forward pass, they crossed again. This time it was the No 8, Han Kun Kyu, who came up with the ball after a close-range pushover by the Korean pack. However, an indomitable second-half display from the home players earned them their greatest scalp since the Gulf era began in 1993. "We left it close, certainly a lot closer than we wanted to, but we will take a win however it comes," said Mike Cox-Hill, the Gulf captain.

To come away with two wins from the A5N is the best we have ever managed. pradley@thenational.ae