x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Jebel Ali Dragons find a way past Dubai Hurricanes

Murray Strang helped lead Jebel Ali Dragons to the decisive score in a 19-9 victory over Dubai Hurricanes. Just across Zayed Sports City, Jeremy Manning was doing the same for Abu Dhabi Harlequins in a 17-3 win over Xodus Wasps.

Player-coach Jeremy Mannings lead his Abu Dhabi Harlequins past Xodus Wasps 17-3 on Friday night in a UAE Premiership match. Antonie Robertson / The National
Player-coach Jeremy Mannings lead his Abu Dhabi Harlequins past Xodus Wasps 17-3 on Friday night in a UAE Premiership match. Antonie Robertson / The National

DUBAI // Of their two headline summer signings, Jebel Ali Dragons know full well which they would entrust to run 95 yards in the dying minutes to score a match-clinching try.

And it would not be Murray Strang. However, for the second week running, the new Dragons player-coach defied his age and reputation by blazing a trail for the decisive score in a 19-9 victory over Dubai Hurricanes on Friday night.

The winning margin suggests the defending UAE Premiership champions were comfortable victors at The Sevens. That totally belies the actual run of play, though. In a match addled by mistakes, the Hurricanes were good value for a 9-5 lead with three minutes remaining.

However, as they pressed for a try that would have settled the game, they coughed up possession under the Dragons’ posts.

Strang, whose running game is often overshadowed by his talent with the boot, recovered the ball and ran the length of the field unopposed.

Even Imad Reyal, the jet-heeled Sri Lanka full-back who also switched to the Dragons from Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the off-season, was left trailing in the Scotsman’s wake.

“Canes are really good scrappers and we really didn’t look like we were going to pull that off,” said Strang, 32, who scored two of the three Dragons tries.

“We kept the faith and we always felt that if we had the chance to go, we would be able to break their line and put them away. Thankfully, it opened up for me. I didn’t fancy the run myself, but once I got in there I had to go.

“I genuinely wouldn’t have backed myself there, but the line was getting closer and closer and when I saw the last defender drop behind me, I was chuffed.”

The scoreline was embellished immediately after Strang’s solo effort when Phil Cronin charged over for a third Dragons try, almost directly from the Hurricanes restart.

However, the Premiership holders acknowledged they were far below their best.

“A really good team wins when they play badly,” Strang said. “They get to the end of the season and look back and realise those are the games which win a league, rather than the ones where you win by 50 points. To go and score again when there wasn’t a bonus point in it shows the heart of these guys.

“Any other team that had won in the last minute would have been jubilant, but we were saying 77 minutes wasn’t good enough and we need to work on it in the week.”

Conor Coakley, the stand-in Hurricanes captain, said fate had conspired against his team. “The hop of the ball in the last five minutes went against us,” said the Hurricanes lock. “I thought there were great performances from both sides and it was a really tough game, a forward’s game, and there was nothing between the two teams, but the Dragons got the luck of the ball at the end.

“Both teams were a little excited as there was a lot at stake and the nerves showed with the amount of dropped balls.”

The high humidity also made for slippery handling and sapping conditions in the capital, as Abu Dhabi Saracens and Dubai Exiles shared a 12-12 draw.

Just across Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi Harlequins stuttered to a first win of the season with a 17-3 win over Xodus Wasps.

Jeremy Manning, making his first start since accepting the role of player-coach, scored the first of three tries for the home team.

Jonny Marshall and Joel Pikari also crossed the whitewash, and Manning said: “It was good to get a first win on the board, but there is certainly a lot still to work on for next week.”