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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Jebel Ali Dragons 'draw a line' under Dubai Sevens heartbreak to focus on West Asia Premiership success

Matt Richards reveals his anguish at missing out on the title but insists all energies are now being put into the 15-a-side format.

Jebel Ali Dragons, blue, produced an important win over Bahrain pn Friday to boost their West Asia Premiership hopes. Satish Kumar for The National
Jebel Ali Dragons, blue, produced an important win over Bahrain pn Friday to boost their West Asia Premiership hopes. Satish Kumar for The National

When a group of Jebel Ali Dragons first-teamers met on Saturday morning to go stand-up paddle-boarding on the Arabian Gulf, their conversation likely centred on looking ahead with optimism to the business end of the season.

It was the morning after Friday’s vital 26-23 home win over previously undefeated Bahrain, which leaves them level on points with Abu Dhabi Harlequins at the top of the West Asia Premiership.

Their focus will now be on trying to topple defending champions Harlequins – who trounced Dubai Sports City Eagles 74-8 – on the road next weekend.

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It was Dragons’ second win in the XVs format since the Dubai Rugby Sevens last month, which means the anguish of their final defeat against Dubai Exiles is now an ever diminishing memory.

Matt Richards, who scored one of the three tries in the win over Bahrain, is impressed with the way his new team have not missed a beat in the 15-a-side game, despite their sevens heartbreak.

Succeeding in the abbreviated format had been a major target for the club, and Richards himself. He had moved from the Exiles in the summer with the expressed aim of triumphing at the Sevens. His focus – and his club’s – has shifted now.

“I thought it was going to be [deflating],” Richards said of the Sevens final loss to Exiles. “I was properly gutted. [Winning the Sevens] was one of the reasons I had come here.

"It was against my old team, and I had a chance to score – which may have clinched it for us.

“Instead, I got smashed into touch, effectively losing us the game. So I was really deflated, but the rest of the boys were great.

“They just said: ‘We had a go, we lost, let’s draw a line under it.' We had a week off, and it was straight back into the XVs.”

Wins against Dubai Hurricanes and now Bahrain have meant the Dragons, who were the regional game’s most dominant force for much of this decade, are well placed at the top of the table.

According to Henry Paul, the Dragons coach, they are only looking ahead, not dwelling on what is passed.

“We had the [Dubai Sevens final] by the scruff of the neck, then because of our own errors, we gave possession away, then fair play to the Exiles,” Paul said.

“They did enough to win it. If you have those chance and don’t take them, you only have yourselves to blame.

“But the boys rebounded really well against Hurricanes, which is where they took out a lot of their sevens frustrations. As a club, we have moved our focus to the West Asia Premiership now.”