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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Dubai Exiles still UAE club rugby title contenders despite defeat to Abu Dhabi Harlequins

Dubai club have lost three West Asia Premiership defeats on trot but captain Gerber puts them all in perspective

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

Dubai Exiles are still confident they can contend for titles this season, despite having now lost three successive West Asia Premiership matches.

They were beaten 29-25 in an engrossing encounter with Abu Dhabi Harlequins at Zayed Sports City on Friday.

The Exiles had started the day top of the table, even though they had lost their previous two matches to Jebel Ali Dragons and Bahrain.

Durandt Gerber, their captain, believes they can yet challenge at the top of the table, though.

“In South Africa, they always say you don’t win the Curry Cup in July, because it runs to September/October, and it is still early on in the season here,” Gerber said.

“Every game is fairly contested, and the games we have lost, it has been by three or four points, giving us at least an extra losing bonus point.

“I think we are still in it, we just have to improve. Last week we had 28 turnovers against us, and I think we gave away too many penalties this time, which was down to over-eagerness. It is those little things that are costing us at the moment.”

Exiles and Harlequins share a fierce rivalry that has occasionally bordered on antipathy.

When their second XVs met in the UAE Conference recently, the fixture was accompanied by a row on social media related over the strengths of their respective line ups.

Anyone turning up to Zayed Sports City on Friday expecting to see a brawl might have been surprised to see a rugby match break out instead.

It was a captivating one, too. The Exiles held the lead twice, which included going ahead with 10 minutes to go via the boot of Gerber.

However, they were beaten at the last by a brilliant late snipe by Barry Dwyer, the Harlequins wing.

The sides shared an embrace at the end, as they joined together in support of stricken Harlequins centre Garth van Niekerk, who has returned home to South Africa as he is suffering from advanced colon cancer.

“There is a lot of pressure this season,” Gerber said. “All the teams have stepped up, you can’t afford to get into brawls and things like that, and we focus on the rugby rather than each other.”

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Luke Stevenson, who has taken over the Harlequins captaincy following the concussion-enforced retirement of Ben Bolger, was flawless from the kicking tee.

The flyhalf scored 19 points, via five penalties and two conversions, to add to tries by Dwyer and Craig Nutt.

The win extended the defending champions’ unbeaten run at the start of the campaign, despite an exhaustive injury list.

“We are sort of on our last legs at the moment, but we keep dragging out these two and three-point wins,” Stevenson said.

“There are new boys in the team every week, and it is a credit to them. We are shoving lads in, they are doing a job, and we are surviving at the moment.”