DuRandt Gerber adds gloss as Dubai Exiles claim UAE Premiership title in Al Ain

Veteran fly-half settles victory over Dubai Tigers as country's oldest club regain domestic crown

Dubai Exiles celebrate winning the UAE Premiership after beating Dubai Tigers in the final at Al Ain Amblers RFC. Ruel Pableo for The National
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With the season on the line, and the side who beat them twice during the regular league season threatening a fightback, Dubai Exiles might have been forgiven for feeling a sense of panic in the second half of Saturday’s UAE Premiership final in Al Ain.

Then they brought a 41-year-old – who was happily retired a month ago – off the bench, and any sense of trepidation dissolved. One of their players even verbalised it. “Don’t worry: Du’s on,” he said.

The UAE’s oldest rugby club had asked DuRandt Gerber to bolster their squad as injuries started to mount during the run in. The fly-half, who had been one of the seminal figures in the club’s renaissance over the past decade after arriving from professional rugby in Italy, had been added to the squad for the past three games of this season.

With a minute to go in the final against Dubai Tigers, who were eyeing a domestic double, he kicked the drop goal which decided the game in their favour.

The Exiles already held a four-point lead at the time. His kick meant the Tigers would require a converted try to force extra-time. As it was, they barely touched the ball again, as the Exiles claimed the title with a 29-22 win.

“He has a great rugby brain and understands the game so well,” Pieter Kilian, the Exiles captain, said of Gerber.

“He is 41 years old, but just a brilliant rugby player – one of the best I have played with out here. Having him on the bench, when I went off the first thing I thought was, ‘Du, you are leading again.’

“He used to be my captain when I first started at Exiles, and it is great having him coming off the bench for us now.”

Jacques Benade, the Exiles coach, said it was reassuring to have a player of Gerber’s pedigree to call on to help close out the title.

“It was a strange season,” Benade said. “We lost some quality boys, and we had to go back and call on DuRandt – but you just know he will be special.

“For him to be able to do that in the last two minutes, just to give us that little bit of breathing space, that is what you expect from a player of that calibre.”

Any ideas of a push for the title will have seemed fanciful for Exiles when they started the campaign with three defeats. The lost twice to the Tigers, who were also the Dubai Rugby Sevens winners.

They were good value for their win in the final, though. Gerber’s cameo added the gloss to a performance, which had seen them score tries through John Donnan and Anthony Kapp, plus 16 points from the boot of Handre Snetler.

Exiles beat Tigers to win UAE Premiership - final in pictures

“It has been all about heart after the start we had to the season,” Kilian said.

“We said, ‘Boys, we have an amazing squad, a great coach, trust in what he says and the wins will come.’ It built up over the course of the season, then today, we all stuck together.

“We are all mates off the pitch, and that played a massive role in it. When you play with a group of mates, you stick together the whole time, then by the end of the game the scoreboard will reflect that.

“We just kept in the game. There are always going to be times when things don’t go our way, but we just need to play through that. The boys did that brilliantly in the end.”

Despite tries from Clint Eadie, Diogo Pinto Basto, and Francis Schaumkel, Tigers’ push for a sevens and XVs double ultimately fell just short.

It meant Exiles regained the title, having lost out to Abu Dhabi Harlequins last season.

“It is pressure every year,” Benade said. “Everybody just expects Exiles to be there, but it takes a lot of hard work.

“I am very lucky because I have a very good squad of players there and Jon Ebbitt [Exiles’ general manager] does an exceptional job.

“They’re a brilliant group of boys who keeping fighting. We went through a wee dip there, losing three games in a row, so we had to work hard.

“All credit goes to these players. They will never stop, they will just keep working, so I am delighted for them.”

Updated: March 20, 2023, 10:09 AM