x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Loss to Bahrain is big blow to Harlequins' hope of title repeat

The prospect of a club from outside the UAE carrying off the top prize in Gulf rugby for the first time in 13 years moved a step closer after Bahrain claimed a 15-13 triumph.

DUBAI // The prospect of a club from outside the UAE carrying off the top prize in Gulf rugby for the first time in 13 years moved a step closer after Bahrain claimed a 15-13 triumph over Abu Dhabi Harlequins at the weekend. Bahrain remain the most successful club in the history of the Arabian Gulf Premiership, despite not having won the competition since 1997. However, a 14th title now looks almost certain after they defeated their closest rivals Quins, the defending champion.

The Harlequins had 20 players unavailable for the trip to Manama, including the key trio of Patrick Hegarty, Simon Osborne and Dave Stolzenburg, the club captain. As a barometer of the club's frustrations, Stolzenburg was unable to travel as he was without his passport because of the process involved in changing jobs. "We hope to have a stronger team next time we travel, that's for sure," said Richard Harris, the Abu Dhabi chairman whose side will also compete for the Gulf Cup against the same opposition.

"It is still mathematically possible that we could win the league. If Dubai Exiles can beat them, then it is game on again. Realistically, they should win the league, but at least it is still in our hands that we can stop them winning the double." Given their problems, the travelling side did well to get so close to a Bahrain team whose form has been outstanding this season. They even scored the first try, through Tony Matthews, the full-back, only for the hosts to establish control through tries from Ollie Hunt and Matt Cross.

Jeff Nicholson did cross late on to give the visitors a chance of a share of the points, but Murray Strang's conversion attempt drifted wide. Harlequins will get their first chance to avenge the defeat when they hosts Bahrain in a fortnight's time, at Al Ghazal. pradley@thenational.ae