Exiles – double winners last season after collecting the Dubai Sevens and UAE Premiership titles – arguably had the most difficult start to the new 2018/19 campaign last Friday as they welcomed Mike Phillips’ men to The Sevens Stadium.
They went down to a 20-14 defeat, but director of rugby Benade bemoaned the fact poor decision-making led to his side giving up an eight point lead in the second half.
“Of course I’m always disappointed in losing the game but there were also a lot of positives,” said the South African.
“Two very even teams and on the day they just took their chances and we didn’t.”
Victory provided former Wales and British & Irish Lions scrum-half Phillips with a debut win in his first competitive fixture since taking over at Dragons following Henry Paul’s departure to be assistant coach of the Canada national team.
Dragons won the Premiership last term – overcoming Bahrain on the final match day to rip the title away from Abu Dhabi Harlequins. And after a summer recruitment drive which has included the acquisition of Phillips as coach, they are the early favourites to retain their title.
They displayed their credentials as they fought back at Exiles, a penalty try and a fine counter-attacking score seeing an eight point deficit quickly turned into a three point lead.
“Going up 11-3 in the second half I thought we were in control but with an unnecessary penalty try and a bad clearance kick we suddenly found ourselves behind 17-14,” added Benade, who led Exiles back to prominence last season after a woeful 2016/17.
“Our set-piece was fine and we looked strong for the first 55 minutes, earning a scrum penalty and also stealing two or three of their lineouts. But it eventually cost us the game as we struggled in the last 25 minutes, losing key lineouts at good attacking positions and also put under severe pressure in the scrums which led to the penalty in our 22.
“At 20-14 and we had to chase the game. Again we were creating opportunities but our decision-making let us down.”
And, ultimately, Benade and his players will come out of the game knowing the positives outweigh the negatives.
“As I said, I’m happy in that we are creating opportunities, we just now need to finish them off,” added the former Emerging Springboks fly-half.
“It’s a long season. I’m happy with our performance on our first run out. We will build on this and we will get better during the season.”
In the weekend’s other games, Bahrain won 24-14 in Abu Dhabi as they overcame hosts Harlequins, while Dubai Hurricanes beat Dubai Eagles 20-13 in a repeat of last term’s West Asia Trophy final.
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