Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 April 2020

Coronavirus leaves rugby facing chaotic conclusion

Confusion over end of season matches with two top-tier finals still possible

The domestic rugby season is reaching a chaotic conclusion as organisers face unprecedented logistical issues brought about by coronavirus.

It remains possible two top-tier finals could yet take place – including the West Asia Premiership – although the dates and venues remain uncertain at present.

As per the original schedule for the season, the UAE Premiership final is set for Friday, March 20, with the cross-border West Asia showpiece a week later.

Earlier this week it was announced that remaining fixtures in the West Asia competition were cancelled.

That stemmed from the reduced flight availability getting to and from Bahrain, who are the only non-UAE based side in the competition.

It was assumed it meant there would be no final in the competition, and that Bahrain would be crowned champions, despite having two regular season fixtures outstanding.

Bahrain, though, suggested they would prefer to play the final, if it is possible amid the interrupted flight travel between the countries.

The opposition would be Dubai Exiles, who had a walkover win on Wednesday night in their last regular season fixture after Dubai Knights Eagles forfeited.

Gulf Rugby Management (GRM) remain open to the idea of the final taking place.

They have confirmed that Bahrain’s two cancelled regular season fixtures – both at home, to Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Jebel Ali Dragons - will be deemed 0-0 draws.

As such, Bahrain top the league, and they are entitled to a home fixture in the final.

“The current situation re the Covid-19 health concerns will be discussed,” GRM wrote in an email to the club chairmen.

“A decision made on the playing of the championship final on Friday, March 27, between the top two teams of the league will be decided on Tuesday, March 17.”

The only remaining regular season Premiership fixture will go ahead on Friday, when Dubai Tigers face Dubai Hurricanes.

The match is nominally a home game for Tigers, but they have had to shift the match to The Sevens, the home of the Hurricanes.

Tigers’ home ground is Dubai College, which is subject to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority ruling precluding sports activities from taking place.

Hurricanes are already guaranteed to be the opponents for the Exiles in the UAE Premiership final.

The clubs have mooted the idea of bringing that match forward by a week, to be played on March 13 instead.

According to Mike Wernham, the Hurricanes coach, training has been unaffected by health concerns over coronavirus, but alterations to the usual procedure have been made.

Meetings with the players have not taken place in closed rooms, contact has been at a minimum, while hand sanitiser has been available at pitch side during training.

“We are doing our best, and it is weird because it is obviously not something you plan for,” Wernham said.

“We would be heartbroken if the season was stopped short on us, having been working for it since June. We are incredibly excited about the position we are in.

“Whatever the result might be, we just want to tackle the Premiership final against Exiles.”

Despite the disruption to so many workplaces, Wernham says player availability is higher than ever before for this late stage of a season.

His selection meeting on Monday ahead of the Tigers game took more than an hour, with 48 senior players training and eligible.

“It is unprecedented for this time of season, and it has made selection really difficult,” Wernham said.

“As a coach, you have to decide whether you reward consistency throughout the season, or do you pick the players who are firing at this time.

“You want your selection job to be difficult, and you want competition for places.

"It doesn’t normally happen at this time of the season, and it shows where we are at as a club.”

Updated: March 5, 2020 11:22 AM

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