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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 March 2019

Dubai Exiles focused on West Asia Premiership final amid row over UAE Conference disqualification

Rugby club's fourth forfeit over the season, issued after they fielded first-team players in a second-tier game, has led to their disqualification from the league

Dubai Exiles, in black, during a West Asia Premiership match against Dubai Hurricanes in November. Satish Kumar for The National
Dubai Exiles, in black, during a West Asia Premiership match against Dubai Hurricanes in November. Satish Kumar for The National

Dubai Exiles say they are focused on their West Asia Premiership final in Bahrain on Friday, despite a row that has led to them being disqualified from the UAE Conference.

The club have been hit with the sanction after the final match of their second XV’s league campaign in the second-tier competition was subsequently deemed a forfeit.

The fact it was their fourth forfeit of the season has led to the disqualification, while they have also incurred a Dh2,000 penalty, which will be suspended for a year.

Exiles fielded some first-teamers in that fixture, on February 22, who had been long-term absentees, as permitted by a rule related to senior players playing a lower-tier of competition while recovering from injury.

However, Gulf Rugby Management, who run rugby’s competitions in the region, upheld a complaint by Abu Dhabi Saracens, the opposition in that fixture, that other established first XV players had also been playing.

Saracens had harboured outside hopes of picking up a substantial victory to force their way above Al Ain Amblers into the Conference’s end-of-season playoff places.

After being awarded a 30-0 win for the disputed Exiles game, they eventually finished level on points with Al Ain, but finished third on points differential.

Peter Henderson, the Saracens coach, believes the integrity of the competition was affected because of the make-up of the Exiles squad against his team.

“There is scope in the rules for players to come back from injury a grade below, which is fine. We would do the same,” Henderson said.

“I don’t blame the Exiles players. I know a few of them and they are good guys. This decision was not theirs and I believe they were not aware of what was being done.

“But there were several players who had played a lot of games in their first team, and this was wrong. A deliberate decision to gain an unfair advantage was taken.”

Exiles defaulted on three Conference matches earlier in the season, after injury and unavailability left them without up to 18 players out a senior player pool of around 50.

Henderson, though, said he believes Exiles selected their second XV squad against his side with a view to getting their first-team players match ready for the Premiership semi-final with Abu Dhabi Harlequins a week later.

Exiles won that meeting in the capital, 31-16 last weekend. They will now travel to Bahrain for Friday's final.

Jacques Benade, the Exiles coach, says his attention is solely focused on that game, but the club plan to discuss the Conference issue with the game’s administrators next week.

“We will not go out purposely and put a first XV out against a team that is playing in the Conference league,” Benade said. “That is not what we are about.

“We have had so many boys come back over the past two or three weeks. That is why we were able to play the semi-final, otherwise we wouldn’t have made it.”

Updated: March 6, 2019 07:37 PM

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