A drop goal by full-back Steve Smith gives the Dubai Hurricanes the winning margin over the Jebel Ali Dragons to clinch the championship.
Hurricanes make their point and take UAE Premiership title
DUBAI // After a league campaign in which they had to deal with the sort of adversity which might have sent lesser clubs under, Dubai Hurricanes were back on the winners' podium Friday night in the most glorious fashion.
Knowing that a win against their nearest rivals, Jebel Ali Dragons, would suffice, they retained their UAE Premiership title via a 48-metre drop goal by Steve Smith, the full-back, who was retired at the start of the season.
As a former footballer, it makes sense Smith should be adept with the boot.
He only took up rugby when he moved to the UAE after growing frustrated at the lack of empathy shown by the country's referees to his rambunctious playing style on the football field.
His conversion was a profitable one.
By the time it took him to qualify to play for the country on residency grounds, he had got enough of a grasp of rugby to be thrown straight into national-team duty for first the Arabian Gulf, then the UAE.
And now this.
"The wind was behind, we called the move and it was one of those days when it just came off [the foot] sweet," Smith said.
"I called it; the No 10 said, 'No, it is too far out'. Then he got sucked into the scrum on the next play, so I called it again, it came to me and I went for it.
"Lady Luck was on my side."
To call it a season of two halves for the Hurricanes is a little like saying the Burj Khalifa is big: it covers the point, but only just.
They finished second bottom in the Gulf Top Six, which preceded the Premiership, after breaches of discipline and serious injuries conspired against them.
Then some senior players started to return and the contrast was acute.
Smith, for instance, ended his own exile by playing all six games of the Premiership campaign.
Hurricanes won all six.
"I must be a lucky mascot," said Smith, who is now weighing up an offer to return to training with the UAE national squad.
Defeat was a bitter pill for the Dragons, but they are sadly growing used the taste.
How this side - which even Smith acknowledged is "the best on paper in the league" - is not drowning in silverware is difficult to fathom, but they seem to find novel ways to defeat themselves at the last. Yesterday, much was lost by the fact Andy Russell, their playmaker, only arrived 25 minutes in to the game.
Russell, a cricket coach at the ICC Global Cricket Academy, is committed to work most Fridays, and usually has to miss matches that start at 4pm.
"We haven't been able to get over that final hurdle this year," said Shane Thornton, the Dragons player-coach.
"We had enough talent out there [without Russell, who scored an intercept try in the second half, starting], and we showed the Dragons spirit, but to no avail."
SHORT-HANDED EXILES HAND HARLEQUINS A BONUS
Had Dubai Hurricanes and Jebel Ali Dragons played out a draw at the Centre of Excellence on Friday, Abu Dhabi Harlequins would have succeeded in sneaking in to take a title on the final day for the second time this season.
However, while the side from the capital have only lost one fixture in the UAE Premiership, and that by the slenderest of margins – by one point at home to Hurricanes – it would have felt like a hollow victory.
Harlequins were awarded a bonus-point victory on the final afternoon of the league season, after Dubai Exiles, the longest established club in the country, failed to raise a team.
The inquest into how one of the most well-to-do clubs in the region could not get 15 players on to the field for such an important fixture was already starting as soon as the medals were handed out in Jebel Ali.
The Abu Dhabi outfit had made to the trip to The Sevens ground via the team bus, and were only informed of the news when they were in the dressing rooms.
“That was probably the hardest chat I have had to give the boys this season,” Chris Davies, the Quins director of rugby, said.
“Mike Cox-Hill [the Exiles director of rugby] and [Mike Wolff, the club’s chairman] came in to the dressing room to apologise, but it is disappointing for that to happen to a club of such history.”
At least Harlequins can content themselves with having had a fine league season, with the Gulf Cup still to be played, having won the Gulf Top Six, while their second string also won the UAE Conference.
2011-12 Roll of Honour
Gulf Top Six
Winners: Abu Dhabi Harlequins
Winners: Dubai Hurricanes
Runners-up: Abu Dhabi Harlequins
Dubai Rugby Sevens
Winners: Jebel Ali Dragons
Runners-up: Abu Dhabi Harlequins