Bahrain clinch West Asia Cup for first major title in eight years in front of home supporters
Final great occasion of Gulf rugby’s recent history as Bahrain beat Dubai Exiles
After a succession of near misses in recent times, one of regional rugby’s sleeping giants tasted victory again as Bahrain beat Dubai Exiles to win the West Asia Cup.
It was the first major trophy the club have won in eight years, and was delivered in front of rapt home support in Saar on Friday night.
The final was one of the great occasions of Gulf rugby’s recent history. Bahrain refer to themselves on social media as the “Redwall”. That is precisely what they appeared to have erected on the clubhouse side of the ground for the final.
In fact, it was a mass of home supporters, almost all of whom were wearing red to match the home side’s playing kit. Many were clad in cup final T-shirts, specially printed for the game.
This was clearly the hottest ticket in town – so much so that cars were forced to queue to enter. Maybe fortunately, the Exiles’ journey had been delayed, meaning kick off was set back by an hour. As such, no-one in the queueing traffic had to worry about missing any of the action.
Further to the huge attendance who were there in the flesh, more than 7,500 viewed the live broadcast on the Exiles’ Facebook page.
Gulf rugby has rarely experienced a day like this – save perhaps for last year’s UAE Premiership finals day, which was aired live on Dubai Sports, and the 2010 Gulf Cup final, which was similarly broadcast on Bahrain Sports.
They were treated to a fine spectacle, too – even during the half-time break, when a breakdance troupe had been hired to entertain the supporters.
In the match itself, there were eight tries scored in all. With a little more than 20 minutes left, just one point separated the sides.
And, to the delight of the raucous home support, Bahrain ran out 47-25 winners in the end thanks to three tries in the space of six minutes toward the end of the game.
Exiles chairman Mike Wolff said Bahrain were worthy winners, given the occasion they put on, as well as for travelling away and winning at defending champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins in their semi-final.
“Bahrain put a huge amount of effort into social media, how the ground looked, and with all the red T-shirts,” Wolff said.
“If I was a Bahrain player, running out with that noise and that sight, it would be bound to lift your game. Coming off the back of travelling down to Harlequins, we can’t argue with that. It was well deserved.”
For their part, Exiles had been without a variety of key players for reasons as varied as injury, suspension, and visa issues. Three players had been forced to pull out within 24 hours of kick off.
The makeshift side acquitted themselves well, but Wolff pointed out that the win was well-merited for a club who have been without major honours for some while.
“I thought it was a fantastic game, and Bahrain were worthy winners,” Wolff said. “They are great rugby people, and it had been a while since they had won a trophy. We have a lot of respect for them as a club and as people.
“I was delighted for them, but also really proud of the Exiles team. We had a lot of people who weren’t able to get there, for different reasons.
“We were only one point down at the 60-minute mark, then unfortunately they got across the line again.”
Updated: April 1, 2018 12:23 PM