Epeli Davetawalu keeps birthday promise as Dubai Tigers defeat Exiles on opening day

Fijian crossed in the closing stages to set up a 28-27 win as the new rugby season got under way

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Epeli Davetawalu kept his birthday promise to his daughter – and upset some old friends in the process – as he scored the winning try for Dubai Tigers on Saturday night.

The Fijian No 8 crossed in the closing stages to set up a 28-27 win against Dubai Exiles at The Sevens on the opening day of the new season.

He had left it late to keep his promise to Sarah, who was pitch side, having told her he would get a win to remember her fourth birthday by.

Although he will have gone back to a happy home after the game, his workplace relations might be slightly more strained this week.

Davetawalu works alongside Jacques Benade, the opposition coach, at Dubai College, and was formerly his captain at the Exiles.

He switched clubs this summer, though, meaning there was plenty riding on the opening game of the season for him personally.

“For me, coming over with my family being part of the Exiles, it has not been easy for me,” Davetawalu said.

“But coming to Tigers, I have been able to enjoy it. I was telling my wife it is like having to play against your brothers and sisters.

“You have to show them respect when you are playing against them. It was a great game.”

The top league’s oldest and newest clubs have developed a fierce rivalry over recent seasons.

The Tigers struck the first blow of the last campaign when they won this corresponding fixture. The Exiles laughed last, as they ended up winning the UAE Premiership final against the Tigers in Al Ain in March.

In their first encounter of the new campaign, both sides were deprived of players because of international duty, with the UAE sevens side in action at the Asian Games in Hangzhou.

It was the away side who earned the win, after bouncing back from being 10-0 down early in the contest.

“The boys played really well today and I knew it was going to be a very tough game,” Davetawalu said.

“It is not easy because we all know each other and we know what their work rate is like. I had to stay on my toes for the whole 80 minutes.

“They are a team with a great depth of experience, so it is not easy. I salute our boys, especially the young players.

“The mindset had to be strong right to the end, and the Tigers' families' support really boosted our morale.

"It is a new set of boys, and I am proud of how they put all their efforts into it, especially against a side like the Exiles.”

Updated: September 25, 2023, 3:33 AM