It may have been a turbulent debut season for Dubai Eagles, but the fledgling side are dreaming of ending it with a trophy to bring home to the nest after blitzing Abu Dhabi Saracens to set up a West Asia Trophy final against Dubai Hurricanes.
Eagles stormed to a brilliant 53-7 win over Sarries on Friday at Dubai Sports City – earning just a second victory of their maiden campaign which also came over the Al Ghazal outfit, in September.
Eagles will now play Dubai Hurricanes on Friday, on the same day as Bahrain face Dubai Exiles in the final of the West Asia Cup.
The Trophy showpiece takes place at The Sevens, with Eagles relishing a chance to end their debut campaign with a trophy.
“It’s the first time we get the chance for a piece of silverware, in our first season, so we’ll be going all guns blazing for that,” said Eagles fly-half Sean Carey. “We’re really looking forward to finishing the season on a high.”
Although their first foray into domestic rugby has been a steep learning curve, Eagles have enjoyed playing Canes this season, going down 28-12 in their first West Asia Premiership clash in October and battling to a 36-23 defeat at home in February.
“We’re looking forward to another crack at Canes this weekend,” added Carey.
“We were disappointed with how we did when we had them at home, we thought we could do a lot better so it’ll be good to get another crack at them.”
Eagles will be buoyed heading into the final by the manner in which they put Sarries to the sword in Friday’s romp, with Carey revealing everything “clicked” for his side.
He said: “It was a good win. Everything seemed to click on the day. We’ve been training hard over the last few weeks and all came together for once this season.
“We had a lot of backs scoring the tries but the forwards set the platform and once that happened we started firing on all cylinders.”
The enthusiasm for having another crack at Canes, and with silverware at stake, is something driving Eagles ahead of the game, especially captain Conor Coakley, a former Canes player.
“Canes this weekend is huge and something that’s been on our radar for some time,” said the back rower.
“We’ve lost twice to them in two hard-fought games so we really want a shot at them and a trophy, and we’re buzzing for it. They will be too so we’re really looking forward to it.”
And the affable Irishman was pleased with a perfect performance against Sarries, likening Eagles’ performance to Ireland’s Grand Slam-winning Six Nations team.
“A lot of the systems we’ve been working on for the last few months with coach Andrew O’Driscoll have come to fruition now,” he added.
“It’s a bit late at the end of the season, but it’s still good. A lot of the link-up play was similar to Ireland winning the Grand Slam, with forwards popping up in the backs and throwing no-look passes. I was really happy with our performance.”
A delegation of Eagles players, meanwhile, will be heading to Sri Lanka after Friday’s game on a charity initiative, donating club kits to schoolchildren in the country.
Carey said of that initiative: “We’ve got the game on Friday and after that a few of us from the club are off on a charity trip to Sri Lanka, to give some jerseys to kids, delivering them to a school out there.”
They already have the Dubai Sevens title in the trophy cabinet with two more finals to come, but Jacques Benade insists he will be disappointed if Dubai Exiles don’t win at least one more piece of silverware this season.
Exiles stormed to an unexpected 19-12 win against Jebel Ali Dragons in December to lift a maiden Gulf Men’s League title in 11 years at the Sevens. And after a tumultuous 2016/17 season, the team who won the West Asia Championship and UAE Premiership a year earlier are now facing the prospect of possibly winning the treble.
Benade takes his charges to Saar this Friday to face Bahrain in the West Asia Cup final, while the curtain comes down on the domestic season on April 13 with Exiles clashing with old foes Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the UAE Premiership final.
And despite already winning one trophy this season, Benade admitted failure to add another one would leave a sour taste.
“For me it will be a disappointing season if we don’t get one of the next two, because you want to have something to show for all the hard work at the end of the season,” Benade said after his side booked their place in the West Asia final following a 31-20 victory in a pulsating encounter with Dragons in Jebel Ali last Friday.
“I think the players deserve it. They deserve all the credit. To travel up to The Sevens twice a week for training and play on Friday is not easy. They have careers so it’s a massive commitment. So for them I would love to see them win a cup. It will be disappointing for all of us if we don’t.
“Although, whatever happens, I think we can still look back on a magical season. At Christmas everyone wrote us off and after last season we thought we were going the same way. But we made a massive step up and we’re building to a great end to the season.”
Victory on Friday instilled confidence again following a 28-25 defeat to Quins in the inaugural UAE Premiership Cup final a week earlier.
Benade added: “We felt we did enough to win last week so it was hard to pick the boys up this week and come here.”
It’s been a turnaround year for Exiles. In fact, you could say it’s been a turnaround season for Benade’s boys.
They ripped Dubai Eagles to shreds on opening night of the West Asia Premiership and then dispatched Dubai Hurricanes, only to then fall by the wayside as three defeats followed to Dragons, Bahrain and Quins.
That trio surged ahead in contention for the West Asia Premiership. But a combination of elements combined to see Exiles roar back into the title picture.
They claimed a gritty if shock win over Dragons in the Sevens final, which provided a spark for the second half of the campaign. The top teams all took points off each other in a thrilling three weeks in January and early February, which included Exiles earning fine 35-15 and 37-30 victories over Dragons and Quins respectively.
Benade, who was appointed in July 2015, revealed that success came earlier than expected, with a three-year plan towards silverware plotted with the club’s hierarchy.
Cross border and domestic glory arrived in that maiden campaign, meaning failure last season was tough to take.
“We always said this was a three-year plan and it’ll only work if we win something at the end of the three years. It’s good to be in three finals,” said Benade, who acknowledged a decision to deter attracting big players for money in favour of developing local talent took time to bear fruit.
“The first year we had some South Africans came over and I think they maybe pushed us over the line. Maybe the overall level was not where it should be.
“This year all the boys are here to play rugby. Everyone has a job and a work visa and they’re local guys, with some boys coming from school too, like Rory Arnold. There’s no paying players, which is a decision we made after the first year. It was not something we could sustain.
“They all bought into this new philosophy. I think we’ve signed the right boys and hopefully we can build on this next year.”
Exiles have thrived even in the face of several injuries and players playing out of position. A case in point is Argentine lock Tomas Sackmann who has played almost exclusively on the wing in 2018.
“We put a lot of emphasis on skill and we try to make the players comfortable with ball in hand. We tried to be tactical with players and see them develop,” added Benade, who will be sweating on UAE Number 8 Jaen Botes’ availability for Friday after his fellow South African was red-carded against Dragons after being shown a second yellow for retaliation.
“We need to look at Jaen because I don’t think it was a yellow card personally, so hopefully we can get that overturned otherwise he’ll miss the final.”
Emirates Airlines triumphed in the men’s category of this year’s Zurich Corporate Touch 6s tournament, with a 3-2 victory over Cluttons.
Emirates captain Kane Sandison, was thrilled to taste success after being beaten in the final of the mixed cup category last year.
“It was always our goal to get our hands on some silverware at this year’s event”, he said. “Cluttons are a strong team and proved tough competition.”
This is only the second time Emirates Airlines has competed in the tournament and are already looking forward to defending their trophy, having won each of their seven games at this year’s event.
“We only started taking part in the tournament last year, but were keen to come back for more this year,” Sandison added. “It’s such a great, well-organised event and, in our opinion, the premier touch event in the UAE calendar.”
The mixed cup was won by tournament first-timers Creative Zone, who also boasted the mixed team Player of the Tournament, Fiona Donald.
Andrew Bowes, captain of the mixed plate-winning Scorpions team from Dhahran in Saudi Arabia, said: “This was our third year taking part in the Zurich Corporate Touch 6s and we love coming over to Dubai to take part as it’s such a great standard of play and so well-organised.”
This was the seventh annual Zurich Corporate Touch 6s Tournament, with more than thirty teams from businesses across the UAE competing at the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club.
Walter Jopp, CEO of Zurich, said: “We’re proud to have been the headline sponsor behind this fabulous event from day one, and in recent years have witnessed its emergence into a lively community day for all to enjoy.
“It was great to see the outstanding skills and determination of all the winners, but more important was the camaraderie which was on display among every player, regardless of ability or experience.
“The event is genuinely accessible to all, with many players taking part in a touch game for the first time, and this adds to the tremendous fun and competitive spirit which is on display throughout the day, and makes it so entertaining to watch.”
OTHER KEY RESULTS
Mixed Cup Winners – Creative Zone, Dubai, with a 3-2 win over Safa Community School
Mixed Plate Winners – Saudi Scorpions 1, with a 4-1 win over Lamprell
Mixed Bowl Winners – AES, with a 3-0 win over BASF
Men’s Player of the Tournament – Charlie Sergeant, Cluttons
Mixed Player of the Tournament – Fiona Donald, Creative Zone