Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 26 April 2019

Abu Dhabi Harlequins overcome 'apprehension' to book place in UAE Premiership final

Despite finishing the regular league phase 17 points clear, the 'whole season is based on this one game', says Harlequins coach Alistair Thompson

Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in green, red and white, will face Jebel Ali Dragons in the UAE Premiership final. Satish Kumar for The National 
Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in green, red and white, will face Jebel Ali Dragons in the UAE Premiership final. Satish Kumar for The National 

Alistair Thompson, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins coach, acknowledged his side had been apprehensive before eventually sealing their place in the UAE Premiership final with a win over Dubai Hurricanes.

Harlequins will bid to reclaim the title they last won two seasons ago on finals day at The Sevens on Friday when they face Jebel Ali Dragons, who beat Dubai Exiles in their playoff semi-final at the weekend.

The side from the capital had finished the regular league phase of the campaign 17 points clear of their nearest challengers, and voiced frustrations that they now had to prove themselves again via the playoff phase.

For the past two seasons, domestic rugby has followed a convoluted format where fixtures in the top division count towards two different competitions.

Results in the six-team, cross-border West Asia Premiership lead to the top four sides playing semi-finals and then a final, to decide the region’s No 1 side.

Then the results of Bahrain – the only non-UAE side currently in the competition, and who ended their season as West Asia champions two weeks ago – are taken away to calculate the UAE Premiership table.

That, too, is decided by a playoff system at the end, meaning that, after the best part of six months of rugby, only one team – in this case, last-placed Dubai Sports City Eagles – are filtered out of the competition.

“Your whole season is based on this one game,” Thompson said after his side beat Hurricanes 43-27, with tries from Andrew Semple, Kini Natuna, Moeneeb Galant, Ashbey Williams, Epeli Qatavi and Brian Geraghty.

“You only have to beat the bottom team twice and you are going into the playoffs, then we know what UAE rugby is like – any of the top four teams can beat each other on their day.

“Because of that, absolutely we went in [to Friday’s game against Hurricanes] with a little bit of apprehension, but we were also confident having had two good weeks of preparation.

“It was about trying to get that across to the boys, and with that confidence, we can go places. We left a lot on the park against Exiles two weeks ago, and we wanted to put a lot of wrongs right.”

Even though the Hurricanes finished in the same position at first-team level as 12 months earlier, Mike Wernham, the coach, said he was confident they were progressing.

Hurricanes won the Dubai Rugby Sevens in December, and also had great success at age-group level.

“There were things in the game that, had they gone our way, it might have been different,” Wernham said after the loss to Harlequins.

“But if you look at the final league positions, Quins were undefeated apart from the Exiles game. Especially at the start of the year, they were a ferocious team.

“When I first got here, players weren’t used to certain things, meeting protocols, and it was very much too open in comparison to how I like things.

“Now, the players know if they are late, they are going to be hammered. If you don’t train, you are not going to get picked.

“I am incredibly proud. The lads are there with their heads up, and the first thing the captain said is, ‘If we have got the same team here next year, we will go on again’.”

Updated: March 23, 2019 03:30 PM

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