x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Harlequins take the sting out of Wasps hooker Leota

The much-loved Samoan and former London Wasps hooker Trevor Leota reminded fans of his awesome tackling power, but could not stop his side from sliding to a 19-5 defeat at Emirates Palace.

Abu Dhabi Harlequins ran out comfortable winners against the Dubai Wasps in the curtain raiser at Emirates Palace.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins ran out comfortable winners against the Dubai Wasps in the curtain raiser at Emirates Palace.

ABU DHABI // For the few hundred Wasps fans who had made the trip from London, it will have felt like he had never been away.

Trevor Leota became a cult hero in eight years with the Adams Park club, and won the Heineken Cup with them in 2004.

After meandering his way through the twilight of his career via France, South Africa, New Zealand and Wales, the free-spirited former Samoa hooker has ended up in Dubai.

Now aged 35, he has his own team, which he set up last summer and promptly named Wasps in homage to his former club.

His new side were invited to play a curtain-raiser before the current Wasps vintage played the main event at Emirates Palace last night, and he made a point of sending a forget-me-not to his former fans.

Leota famously loves a collision, and was banned from tackling practice for much of his professional career.

Patrick Hegarty, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins fly-half, was the poor soul who bore the brunt of his bid to create a lasting impression.

Midway through the first half, the Quins player jinked his way through a gap in the Wasps defence, then was confronted by a human wrecking ball.

Leota hit Hegarty with such force, he was sent sideways and even knocked the referee over in the process.

"I had to put on a bit of a show for them but I am getting old these days and it is starting to catch up with me," Leota said.

"It was good to see so many Wasps fans out here. It was a great occasion for my boys, who had never played in front of people before.

"We play second division and they put out their first XV. I was so proud of the boys, and one of the local players [Abdullah Ahmed] scored a try, which was great."

The Abu Dhabi side are one of the leading clubs in the Gulf and, despite Leota's presence, they had too much quality for their opposition.

Quins held a 7-0 half-time lead after Tim Harwin, their centre, made the most of a muddled clearance to score in the corner.

As the Dubai side started to tire in the second phase, Quins found plenty of space to exploit, and David Stolzenburg, the longe-serving winger, profited by diving over in the corner.

After Ahmed, one of Wasps' sizable contingent of Emirati players, went over in the corner, Chris Jones-Griffiths settled the encounter in the "home" side's favour.

"When they have the ball five yards out from the line you know Trevor is going to be looking for it, so it is easy to key in," Alistair Thompson, the Quins coach, said.

"Every time we managed to get double-tackles there so we managed to stop him. Whenever you play against a team like Wasps you know it is going to be physical.

"We just needed to keep possession at ruck time, and we managed to do that."

 

pradley@thenational.ae