x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Walking wounded up for rugby battle in West Asia Final

The Abu Dhabi Harlequins are patched up and ready to go for one final battle against Jebel Ali Dragons in the West Asia Final, writes Paul Radley.

Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in green, topped the Jebel Ali Dragons 17-5, on February 15, and they meet again in today’s West Asia final. Ravindranath K / The National
Abu Dhabi Harlequins, in green, topped the Jebel Ali Dragons 17-5, on February 15, and they meet again in today’s West Asia final. Ravindranath K / The National

Judged by the titanic collisions and petty squabbles on the field the last time the Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Jebel Ali Dragons met, today's encounter to decide the best side in West Asia really did not need any artificial additives to spice it.

The season's finale certainly has a little extra on it, though, after last weekend's shemozzle which saw the undefeated Quins follow up nine successive league wins by forfeiting their last regular-season fixture against Friday's opposition.

The Gulf Top Six winners cited injuries and unavailability to front rowers, meaning they could not fulfil the fixture due to duty of care at scrum time.

The Dragons are believed to have privately suspected something underhand was taking place.

And there was a point this week where it seemed Abu Dhabi's home advantage might have been revoked because of the issue.

Ultimately that never came to pass and there was no hint of conspiracy, either, according to Chris Davies, the director of rugby for the Harlequins.

Of the 23 names on his early squad list for this game, eight still had "to be confirmed" written next to them yesterday morning.

Patrick Milton, the club's physiotherapist, has seen his private practice swamped over the past two weeks, inundated with rugby players rather than the paying public.

"It has been a tough two weeks," Davies said. "It is just the nature of the sport and it was always going to be a tough run in with the fixtures we had in the build-up to this game.

"It was always going to take its toll. Hopefully, the occasion will help uplift the lads."

This match should never have the feel of being after the Lord Mayor's show, but there are certainly some things overshadowing it.

First, there is the sense a variety of the players would have enjoyed measuring themselves against the likes of Carlos Spencer and Conrad Jantjes further up the coast, had the final not clashed with the Sharjah 10s.

Furthermore, a number of the key protagonists who have helped colour the domestic rugby campaign will either be absent or red eyed.

The Quins are missing Jeremy Manning, who is in Hong Kong for the Sevens, and Murray Strang.

Meanwhile Ed Lewsey, arguably the player of the domestic season, will need a few cups of coffee while he sits on the replacements bench following his night flight to the UAE from London, due to arrive this morning.

At least he managed to change his flights to get back earlier than initially scheduled from his duty with the British School, Al Khubairat, on their trip to play at the Rosslyn Park Sevens.

By contrast, the Dragons are without Tim Fletcher, their influential back, as changing the timings of the business-class flights he had booked for his honeymoon proved beyond the club's means.

At least they have Rory Binder back to bolster their midfield. Success in Abu Dhabi would neatly bookend the season for a player who damaged his knee 10 minutes in to the very first game, at the same ground, which led him to miss the next four months.

"Quins beat us 17-5 at their place a month ago so they will be favourites on paper, but our preparation has been spot on," said Paul Hart, the Dragons captain. "We are focused and ready to go for it."


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