x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Three-way fight for top spot of rugby's Gulf Top Six

The Dragons, Doha and Harlequins each have a worthy case for the title honour which is set to reach a thrilling climax today.

The Jebel Ali Dragons, grey kit, and the Abu Dhabi Harlequins are both in contention for the Gulf Top Six.
The Jebel Ali Dragons, grey kit, and the Abu Dhabi Harlequins are both in contention for the Gulf Top Six.

DUBAI // When the noise stops on Gulf rugby's game of musical chairs this evening, the Jebel Ali Dragons are hoping they will be the ones left on the winners' seat.

They start the day level on points at the top of the Gulf Top Six with Doha, who they entertain at the Centre of Excellence.

Both sides could yet be toppled by Abu Dhabi Harlequins, who are a point behind but could win the title if they gain a bonus point win at the Dubai Exiles, and Doha or the Dragons fail to do the same.

Each club can make a worthy case to say they deserve the first XVs title of the campaign.

However, it might be fair to assume the need of the Dragons, whose dearth of trophies in the 15-a-side code in recent years has been nowhere near commensurate with the talent in their playing squad, is the greatest.

"Last year we let ourselves down," said Shane Thornton, the Dragons player-coach.

"We could have come away with three trophies - like Dubai Hurricanes ended up doing - but we finished up with nothing. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes they haven't been able to back it up, but we are really excited at having the chance to win this."

The complex equation to decide who will win the crown is further clouded by the various personnel changes there have been of late.

The Dragons have doubts over their trio of backs, Trent Eastgate, Rory Binder and Mike Botha, but they have added Taif Al Delamie, the former Arabian Gulf captain, to their enviable pool of talent.

Since the eight-week hiatus in the XVs season started in November, Jamie Clarke, Abu Dhabi's captain, has left to move to Doha for work. His captain's armband has been handed to Alistair Thompson, who won two Gulf Cups and one league title in his first spell in the job.

He may be the club's lucky captain, but fortune has not favoured him this week. He will miss the game at the Exiles because of a knee injury, the same fate keeping out Renier Els, which means the Quins are now without all three of their UAE national team back-row forwards.

"We know what we have to do, and we are solely concentrating on what we can control, which is winning a very tough game at the Exiles," Thompson said.

pradley@thenational.ae