x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Surprises in store when Dubai Hurricanes meet Jebel Ali Dragons

Andy Russell makes a surprise return to the Jebel Ali Dragons squad for the Premiership final against Dubai Hurricanes, writes Paul Radley.

Jebel Ali Dragons’ back Andy Russell has not been on the field this year, but could make his return Friday night in the domestic league finale against Dubai Hurricanes. Mike Young / for The National
Jebel Ali Dragons’ back Andy Russell has not been on the field this year, but could make his return Friday night in the domestic league finale against Dubai Hurricanes. Mike Young / for The National

DUBAI // This time last year, Jebel Ali Dragons did their best to hide their highest-value playing cards, ahead of the UAE Premiership final against Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

The side from the capital were unbeaten in the league and strong favourites, but the Dragons fancied their chances – not least because they had a new secret weapon.

Sean Crombie, a former Scotland sevens international, had only recently arrived off the plane from the UK.

He had such a fine pedigree in the game, the Dragons really should have been singing news of their transfer coup from the rooftops.

Instead, they hid the fact he was playing, going so far as to instruct him not to do any media interviews in the lead-up to the final.

The Scottish hooker ended up being the deciding force in the match, and within six months had three major winners medals, as well as 16 tries in 12 matches.

He has been installed as captain for today’s final.

Now the Dragons are trying to retain their Premiership crown against Dubai Hurricanes and this time secrets are at a premium.

The two sides met only recently, in a surprisingly insipid league fixture in testing weather at The Sevens.

Given that the two sets of players, while rivals on the field, are generally good friends off it, they know most things there is to know about each other.

And yet the Dragons will still be able to spring a surprise in personnel this evening.

They are likely to have as many as six changes from the side who beat Hurricanes 19-9 in the league one month ago, including the return of a long-term absentee, Andy Russell.

The UAE back has long been one of the most influential players on the domestic scene – at least when injuries and work commitments have allowed him to play. He has not been spotted on the field yet this season.

The Russell ruse is not through design. The South African flier had been planning to rest until the start of the sevens series as he sought to finally rid himself of a variety of minor injuries.

He has returned to training earlier than he initially anticipated, though, and could even be restored immediately to the starting line-up for the final.

Taif Al Delamie, the captain, is unavailable, but the Dragons are not short of backline talent with Imad Reyal returning and Murray Strang hoping to beat a hamstring strain to start.

If the Hurricanes are to reclaim the UAE Premiership crown, they will have to get past a formidable side to do it.

“Everyone wants to take our scalp when they play us and that is the best motivation for us,” said Ross Samson, a former professional player with London Scottish who joined Dragons in the summer.

“We have 50 players at training every Monday and Wednesday and the set-up is actually a lot better than some of the rugby at semi-pro level back at home.

“In our squad alone we have players who have played internationally and professionally, so we have a good group of boys.

“We have been concentrating on ourselves, getting good numbers down to training and put our best foot forward on the weekend and the best man wins.”

pradley@thenational.ae

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