Dubai Exiles head to Bahrain for a mouthwatering West Asia Premiership clash on Friday knowing they need to back up their last result – a 35-15 roasting of Jebel Ali Dragons that saw them ascend to the top of the table for the first time this season.
The to and fro nature of this season’s championship is set to sway yet again this weekend with Bahrain hosting Jacques Benade’s side in yet another match that is sure to have seismic ramifications on the destiny of the trophy.
Exiles sit three points ahead of Abu Dhabi Harlequins, four ahead of Dragons and six ahead of Bahrain, although they have played a game more than all three.
And No8 Jaen Botes insists victory against Dragons must be built upon.
“It’s a big game this weekend for us, we need to back up the performance against Dragons,” said the UAE international.
“We felt a click in the camp against Dragons that we will look to bounce off coming into this weekend. Bahrain are a strong side, well drilled and well coached and it will be some task heading up there. We’re looking forward to the challenge and it should be a good game.”
Benade is without starting centres James Crossley and Terry Jacobs, while influential flanker Matt Mills is also missing. And he believes patience will be key to victory.
“It’s a big game and will definitely be very difficult to come back from Bahrain with a win,” said the South African.
“They are well coached with a good pack and have a half-back partnership that controls the game really well.
“It’s always great to go Bahrain and play there. They have a great set-up with a crowd that is very passionate and want to see the home team doing well.
“We will need to be very disciplined, focus on what we need to do and I keep saying it but we must be patient with the ball.
“It should be a great game and we are all looking forward to a very physical battle.”
Bahrain are right back in the title mix following their 66-0 slaughter of Abu Dhabi Saracens two weeks ago, and coach Louie Tonkin is buoyed by the fact three of his side’s remaining four games are at home, plus his hosts are at near full strength.
But he is expecting a bruising encounter against a pack that dominated Dragons last time out.
“Exiles shocked the league and showed how good they can be when they beat Jebel Ali,” said the Welshman.
“It’s no easy feat to go there and win in the fashion they did so we know it’s a big test. But at home we haven’t’ lost all season and we’ve got some players back so we’re pretty much at full strength so we think it’s going to be a humdinger of a match.
“We know it will be hugely physical and we just hope we can play our own game. We’re only six points behind with a game in hand and there’s some big games coming up, Quins away and then Dragons at home last game of the season.
“We still believe we’re in the mix, there’s talk now of a three-horse race but we feel differently. We’ve got three of our last four games at home but we’re trying to focus on this game, not the big picture at the moment.”
With games counting down and the title race likely to go to the wire, teams are keenly aware every game counts and bonus points crucial. There’s double significance to Quins’ visit to Dubai Hurricanes, with the game also acting as the teams’ semi-final of the UAE Premiership Cup, with the winner advancing to take on Exiles in the final.
“This weekend is massive for us, double header or not,” said Quins flanker Sean Stevens.
“We are at a point in the league where every point is vital. We are looking to put in an overall performance against Canes to the standard we pride ourselves on at Quins.”
Even though they’re not in the title picture, Canes are desperate for victory that will give them a shot at silverware, while they are also eyeing a top-four berth that would see them qualify for the end of season West Asia Cup.
“At this time of the year and where we are, we are still looking above us to try and get in the top four, this game is crucial, it’s a final,” said coach Mike Wernham.
“Exiles are already there (UAE Premiership Cup final) and are big rivals of ours so that’s a big incentive. If we win we get another shot, having not done ourselves justice against them this season.
“But we’re focused on Quins. We know Quins are back to winning ways with two massive results so will be full of confidence. We know Quins can punish us from anywhere on the field so we’ve got to be on our game.
“We had a good confidence booster against (Dubai) Eagles (won 36-23 two weeks ago), played some good exciting rugby at times although we were peeved we gave up so many points. Defence was a big focus for us in pre-season so we weren’t happy with that.”
Elsewhere, Eagles are in the firing line for a vengeful Dragons outfit who are still hurting from that Exiles defeat.
Andy Buist takes charge of the side in Henry Paul’s absence – he is helping former Wales international and friend Kingsley Jones coach Canada in the Americas Rugby Championship.
And Dragons skipper Ross Samson is determined to get back to winning ways, although he is aware even the best sports teams have their off days.
“The Exiles loss was not ideal but every team will drop points at some stage in a season, even Barcelona lose games now and again,” said the Scottish scrum-half.
“The Eagles have a great set-up and I’ve got nothing but respect for the way they have gone about things this season on and off the pitch. They are in the middle of a challenging first season but we won’t be showing them any love over Valentine’s Day weekend.”
Of being without Paul for the next few weeks, Samson added: “It’s an amazing opportunity for HP to go away and develop his coaching career, we are all really proud of that achievement and he will bring back some new ideas that can only be a positive thing for us.”
Eagles will be buoyed by how they went toe to toe with Canes a few weeks ago and fly-half Sean Carey feels there is no better test of how far they’ve come welcoming the Dragons to their Dubai Sports City lair.
“It will be good to see how far we’ve come from our first ever game (a friendly against Dragons in pre-season) and then again before the Sevens break,” said the Irishman.
“Our last two games have been close and we feel we are improving in areas each week. There’s still a lot of work to be done but there’s no better test than the Dragons.”
15:00 Dubai Hurricanes v Abu Dhabi Harlequins
17:00 Dubai Eagles v Jebel Ali Dragons
17:00 Bahrain v Dubai Exiles
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