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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Bahrain coach Louie Tonkin expects big support for West Asia Cup final showdown with Dubai Exiles

The two sides face off on Friday with Exiles captain DuRandt Gerber hopeful his side can rise to the occasion despite being without a number of players

Bahrain, in red and white, had to wait eight years to win a major title. Satish Kumar for the National
Bahrain, in red and white, had to wait eight years to win a major title. Satish Kumar for the National

Coaches are well-versed in having to manage the disappointment of players they are unable to put in their starting line ups for big matches.

For Louie Tonkin, the man overseeing Bahrain’s West Asia Cup final tilt against Dubai Exiles, that job extends far beyond the playing squad this weekend.

The appetite for the cup final has been so great in Saar that Tonkin says supporters are concerned they might even miss out.

The Welshman is anticipating a four-figure attendance. Many of the crowd will be wearing specially commissioned cup final T-shirts, and the club are asking spectators to turn up wearing red, to match the home team’s playing strip.

“We are expecting a huge crowd,” Tonkin said. “There are people buying T-shirts already, booking seats, and people are worried they are not going to fit in.

“We are doing all we can to accommodate everyone, but at the moment it is proving pretty difficult. It is going to be a real cauldron. Whoever picks up that trophy after the final whistle is going to have a very special evening.”

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Bahrain earned staging rights for the final on account of finishing higher in the Premiership campaign than Exiles.

They were third, behind second-placed Abu Dhabi Harlequins, whom they beat in the UAE capital in last Friday’s semi-final. Exiles, who were fourth, beat Premiership champions Jebel Ali Dragons in their semi-final.

The feeling of anticipation among supporters has likely been amplified by the extended wait Bahrain have endured for silverware.

While Dragons, Harlequins and Exiles have all collected major trophies in recent seasons, Bahrain have made a habit of falling at the final hurdle, despite having a richly-talented side.

“In Abu Dhabi last week, we went 21-6 down, and it was reminiscent of games against them in the past,” Tonkin said.

“It was great to see the boys still believed we could win the game. I think it was an accumulation of missed experiences: the final last year, and previous semi-final appearances.

“I think there are 15 of our guys in the squad for tomorrow played in the final last year. That experience is very strong, and there is a huge desire. The boys really want to do well for each other.”

Dubai Exiles captain DuRanst Gerber has backed his side to cope against Bahrain despite missing a number of key personnel. Christopher Pike / The National
Dubai Exiles captain DuRanst Gerber has backed his side to cope against Bahrain despite missing a number of key personnel. Christopher Pike / The National

Exiles will have some notable absentees for the trip, most significantly their influential No 8 Jaen Botes, who is suspended following a red card in the semi-final win at Jebel Ali.

DuRandt Gerber, the Exiles captain, said his side will be the underdogs, but are relishing the chance to play in front of such a sizeable crowd.

“We have two or three boys away or not travelling, but we trained well this week, and the guys looked keen and up to it,” Gerber said.

“We have to go out there and, basically like the Dubai Sevens, have a go at it and see how it goes. There is not much more we can do.

“It is the tail end of the season. If what we have done during the whole season has worked and is good enough, we have to stick with that till the final day.

“We are going in as the underdogs, having finished underneath them in the league. We are looking forward to stepping up on the big stage and have a go at it again.”