We’re two weeks into the 2018/19 West Asia Premiership campaign and Bahrain lead the way with two wins from two.
They followed up their opening day win over Abu Dhabi Harlequins with a 52-16 trouncing of Dubai Eagles. Elsewhere, Quins got their first win with a resounding triumph over champions Jebel Ali Dragons. Dubai Exiles, meanwhile, earned the second city spoils in a high-scoring 45-26 win in the Dubai derby against Hurricanes.
Following the second week of action, here are some takeaways.
DRAGONS LEFT FEELING BURNED
There was plenty of rumour and hearsay swirling round ahead of the 2018/19 season’s kick-off that Dragons’ impressive recruitment over the summer would see them installed as favourites to retain their Premiership crown.
But the champions have not had things all their own way in the campaign’s fledgling weeks. An 11-3 deficit was transformed into a slender 20-14 victory against Exiles on opening night as Dragons failed to fully fire under new coach Mike Phillips.
That was followed on the weekend by a comprehensive 24-point margin of defeat to nemesis Quins – who earned some semblance of revenge for having the Premiership title ripped from their grasp on the final day of last season by Dragons.
Quins are the monkey Dragons have been unable to shake off their backs in recent seasons in individual encounters and their stuttering start to the campaign will not have sat well with Phillips and Co.
Hurricanes will be in the eye of the storm this weekend as the champions look to get back to winning ways ahead of a mouthwatering clash with visiting Bahrain the following week.
Of course, on the other hand when considering all the talk of heavy recruitment over the summer, not to mention the appointment of former Wales and British & Irish Lions scrum-half Phillips to take over from Henry Paul, is the bedding in period for the new man in charge and the new faces on the playing staff. They will need to gel quickly in order to get into their groove.
QUICK RIPOSTE FROM QUINS
Speaking of Quins, talk of their impending demise on the eve of the season seems somewhat premature. The UAE’s most dominant side in recent years were knocked off their perch last season as the unprecedented quintuple of 2016/17 was cast aside, while Quins themselves were cast to the shadows.
Mike McFarlane’s men were pillaged and relieved of their West Asia and UAE Premiership crowns by Dragons and Exiles respectively, while Exiles also took their Dubai Sevens title, with Bahrain wading in to wrap up the West Asia Cup trophy.
The rise of that trio last term and continued strengthening of their squads over the summer – while Quins’ ranks were ravaged – all pointed to a season of struggle ahead for the Zayed Sports City outfit. Especially as they were denied a third straight Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League triumph by Bahrain, who then went and earned a 24-14 win in the UAE capital on opening day last weekend.
But Quins are made of stern stuff, especially under McFarlane, and they bounced back superbly to stun the champions, Dragons – a rousing 46-22 victory was achieved having entered the belly of the beast. That should serve as a reminder of what Quins stand for and represent, as well as a taste of things to come this season – namely Emirates rugby fans can hope for another captivating and competitive campaign.
BAHRAIN BLITZ GIVES THEM BEST RECORD
The season has barely started, but the one side to boast a 100 per cent record are Louie Tonkin’s Bahrain, who look in ominous form.
That impressive win at Quins last week came on the back of a rousing Champions League triumph the week before, while they then went and put a half century of points on visiting Dubai Eagles on Friday.
The 52-16 result wasn’t as clear-cut as the scoreline suggests, with Eagles taking the game to their hosts in the first quarter and opening up a 10-0 lead following a brilliant opening try.
But the hosts – the only unbeaten side after two games – are a different beast since Tonkin took charge two summers ago, and ruthlessly cut loose with 38 points in the second half as sky-high Eagles eventually had their wings clipped.
That made it two wins and two bonus points for the Red Wall, who sit atop the Premiership table with a maximum 10 points as well as the most points scored (76, 16 more than anyone else), while they also boast the best defence (30 points conceded, also 16 fewer than any opponent).
Their fine start will be put to the test severely in the coming weeks as they go to The Sevens to take on Exiles this weekend, before returning to Dubai to take on Dragons the following week.
Ed Armitage is aware it will take a “huge effort” from Dubai Exiles to topple the West Asia Premiership’s early season pacesetters Bahrain.
The Yorkshireman says the west Asia side have proven themselves the “team to beat” in the initial two rounds of the 2018/19 season, but he is adamant his side will go for it, especially playing at home.
“Bahrain are coming off their Asia Rugby Western Clubs Champions League win and two convincing wins in the league too, proving themselves the team to beat,” said the Exiles scrum-half, who has returned to the UAE after a year working back home in the UK following the completion of his law degree.
“We’ve got a few boys missing too which makes our task even harder. We had three bad injuries in our first three games so it’s going to take a huge effort from the lads. But we can take credit from last week where we managed to put some good stuff together.”
Exiles beat Dubai rivals Hurricanes 45-26 last week to get their first win after going down narrowly to champions Jebel Ali Dragons in week one, losing 20-14.
Bahrain may be the team to beat, but Armitage is aware they have to come to The Sevens.
Jordan Viggers impressed again on the weekend with another rugged and unrelenting performance in both attack and defence. A slicing run through the Eagles defence was the cherry on top that has earnt him this week's honours as Man of the Match.— Bahrain Rugby (@bahrainrfc) 1 October 2018
#REDWALL #bahrainrugby pic.twitter.com/LpltukqMGT
“They don’t have their huge support, so we’ve simply got to go out there and run them off their feet. I back our fitness to just go for it,” he added.
Bahrain are perfect after two games, with two bonus-point wins in the bag following a 24-14 victory at Abu Dhabi Harlequins and a big 52-16 triumph at home to Dubai Eagles a week ago.
Louie Tonkin led his side to an eventually comfortable 47-25 win in last season’s West Asia Cup final, although the scoreline flattered the victors, with Exiles having given them a real test.
And Tonkin isn’t sure what to expect from Jacques Benade’s men after two differing results.
“It’s been a really tough two weeks for us. We’re a bit banged up but excited to come to The Sevens for the first time, it’s a great place to play,” said Tonkin.
“Looking at Exiles’ results it’s hard to tell where they stand. We know Exiles will be hugely physical and have a great 10, we know it’ll be a big step up, but we feel we’re bringing a good enough squad to do a job.”
Elsewhere, Quins coach Mike McFarlane says his side’s tremendous 46-22 win over Dragons in Jebel Ali last week counts for little if his men don’t follow victory up with another on Friday.
His side travel to Dubai again to take on Eagles, and McFarlane labelled it a “massive game”.
“We’re chuffed with last week’s performance, I felt we executed a carefully prepared game plan, but unless we put on another big performance, it makes nothing of last week, so we’re looking to follow it up,” he said.
“We’ve come out unfortunately with more injuries, three, including Siri (Number 8 Laladidi) who’s done his ACL, Rickus (Swart, scrum-half) will be out for a long time too with neck and shoulder injuries following a horrendous late tackle last week.
“But we’ve got a more than good enough squad to do the job and we’re looking forward to it. Hopefully we come away with a good performance that leads to a positive result.”
As for Dragons, they will be desperate to put last week’s defeat behind them having started their season in pretty uninspiring fashion, with a narrow six-point win over Exiles hardly dominant.
“It’s always good to play a local derby. We need to put things right after a rough one last week v Quins,” said scrum-half Ross Samson.
Dragons travel to The Sevens to take on Canes on Thursday.
“We have had a good week of training and are looking forward to hopefully putting in a good performance. Historically our matches v Canes always tend to be closely fought and pretty scrappy so I’ve packed my tin hat just in case.”
Japan’s stunning 2015 World Cup victory over South Africa is to be turned into a film with the working name of ‘The Brighton Miracle’.
New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison is to play Eddie Jones, England’s current head coach who masterminded the 34-32 triumph at The Amex that was secured when Karne Hesketh crossed in the final minute.
The result is considered the greatest upset in rugby history and enabled Jones to succeed Stuart Lancaster at Twickenham after the tournament.
Filming is expected to begin in January on the Gold Coast with award-winning Australian writer and director Max Mannix overseeing the project.
Mannix believes Jones’ background helps explain Japan’s transformation from a team with only one World Cup win in 24 previous attempts into the first side not to reach the quarter-finals despite amassing three pool victories.
“Eddie understood humiliation because he had lived it,” Mannix told Kyodo News, in reference to the 58-year-old’s experience of racism when growing up in Sydney.
“He is a complex character and I wanted people to see why that is.
“What Eddie Jones and his team did in 2015 was truly magnificent and worthy of being remembered. What I want to do is try and show why it happened and where did the self-belief come from.”
Jones, who is the son of an Australian father and Japanese mother, revealed on Wednesday that the inspiration for his successful reign as Japan coach came from Spaniard Pep Guardiola.
It was during a chat with the current Manchester City manager that his tactics for the Brave Blossoms were crystallised.
“When I was coaching in Japan, the biggest influence on me was Pep Guardiola,” Jones told the O2 Inside Line.
“He had that Tiki-taka football and in Japan we had to find a way to beat bigger teams as we were small and it was only through moving the ball quickly that we could do that.
“I went and spent 90 minutes with him. He stayed until 7pm, he had a full day working and gave me his time at the end of the day talking about his approach to that and it was a really insightful discussion we had and helped me coach Japan.”