x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Gulf Top Six Rugby: A familiar face is the Abu Dhabi Harlequins' foe

Jamie Clarke returns to Zayed Sports City but not as friend as he faces his former team, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins, as a member of the Doha squad.

It was just last season that the Abu Dhabi Harlequins could count on Jamie Clarke, centre and his strong runs.
It was just last season that the Abu Dhabi Harlequins could count on Jamie Clarke, centre and his strong runs.

Abu Dhabi Harlequins will welcome back the man who captained them to the Gulf Top Six title last year to Zayed Sports City Friday afternoon - and they are intent on stopping him having any chance of silverware this time around.

Jamie Clarke was in charge of the Quins at the start of last season, which culminated in them winning the cross-border competition before he left the country to take up a job in recruitment in Qatar.

He returns to the capital this afternoon with a Doha side who are still chasing a place in the season-ending final to decide the top team in West Asia.

The flanker will be in direct conflict with the players he used to captain, and is set for a back-row duel with the man who was his long-term replacement, Billy Graham.

"It is going to feel strange coming up against the old captain and a good friend, but we will have a good battle," Graham said.

"I'll try to hit him hard and it will probably be vice versa, too.

"It is a healthy rivalry and we will try to better each other."

Ed Lewsey, Jeremy Manning and Chris Marshall will all return to the home squad for this afternoon's game as the Quins prepare for the culmination of the campaign.

"It is good to see a couple of the guys who have been unavailable back ahead of an important end of the year," Graham said.

"We have made a point of bettering ourselves every single week and limiting our excuses to make sure that we perform till the end of the year."

Doha need to make up three points over the course of the remaining two weekends of the season if they are to overhaul the Jebel Ali Dragons and take the second berth in the West Asia final.

Despite going down to a shock loss to the Dubai Exiles last weekend, the Dragons still accrued two bonus points, because they had scored four tries and the margin of defeat was slim.

As such, the UAE Premiership champions will clinch their place in the season ending West Asia final if they win in Bahrain today.

That is hardly a given, though, according to Paul Hart, the Dragons' captain, as they are travelling to Manama without Andy Russell, the in-form UAE full-back, and they also have absentees in the front row.

"As a club we have prepared very well this week and are well aware that only a win will do," Hart said.

"We are also aware of the challenge that Bahrain will pose, especially at home with a large crowd behind them."

 

Gulf Top Six table

Abu Dhabi Harlequins    8 8 0 0 176 39

Jebel Ali Dragons          8 5 0 3 45 27

Doha 8 4 0 4 14 24

Bahrain 8 3 0 5 -44 15

Dubai Exiles                8 2 0 6 -131 12

Dubai Hurricanes          8 2 0 6 -60 11

 

Fixtures

Bahrain v Jebel Ali Dragons, 4pm

Dubai Hurricanes v Dubai Exiles, 5pm

Abu Dhabi Harlequins v Doha, 5pm

 

 

 

 

pradley@thenational.ae