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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

UAE cricket coach Peter Kelly the unlikely match winner for Dubai Tigers in Conference final

A former Premiership player with Jebel Ali Dragons, the New Zealander overcame illness and injury before scoring the decisive try.

Peter Kelly, left, makes a tackle during the UAE Conference final. He would go on to be the match-winner, scoring the decisive try in sudden death. Satish Kumar / The National
Peter Kelly, left, makes a tackle during the UAE Conference final. He would go on to be the match-winner, scoring the decisive try in sudden death. Satish Kumar / The National

Having spent most of the run-in to the domestic rugby season absent because of his duties with the UAE national cricket team, Peter Kelly might have forgotten what a rugby ball looked like.

After 90 minutes of intense rugby on Friday, though, he proved he still knew the way to the try-line, scoring the golden points that won the UAE Conference title for Dubai Tigers against Sharjah Wanderers.

The New Zealander opted to join the second-tier Tigers last year after his work hours as the strength and conditioning supremo of UAE cricket meant he could no longer commit enough time to play Premiership rugby. He had been a regular with Jebel Ali Dragons in the past.

Despite his rich playing pedigree in loftier climes, he was still an unlikely match-winner for Tigers, who won their most significant title yet since joining the league four years ago.

He had been away for much of the recent past as part of the staff of the UAE cricket team chasing qualification for the World Cup via tours to Namibia and Zimbabwe.

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In the week leading up to the final, he was battling flu. And even after kick-off he had to be bandaged up having suffered a deep cut to his forehead.

Yet he touched down the sudden-death winner in extra time, after Tigers and Sharjah had shared a tense 20-20 draw in normal time.

Victory in the Conference brings with it the possibility of an invitation to join the top-flight of West Asia rugby next season.

Sharjah themselves had won the competition two seasons before yet declined promotion.

Tigers are likely to pursue a similar course, preferring to build the foundations of their young club before attempting to take on the substantial challenges Premiership rugby brings.

Dubai Tigers begin the celebrations after beating Sharjah Wanderers to win the UAE Conference title. Satish Kumar for the National
Dubai Tigers begin the celebrations after beating Sharjah Wanderers to win the UAE Conference title. Satish Kumar for the National

“It was a great win, bearing in mind we are a young club,” Kelly said.

“It is not just this 23 [match-day squad], it is one to 40. We struggle with guys travelling week in week out, so consistency can be a challenge.

“But this win is fantastic. Even guys who have missed out have come to support the boys.”