The crowning moment of the West Asia Championship has been put on hold after the Abu Dhabi Harlequins produced a dazzling performance to end the winning streak of the Dubai Exiles.
The Quins raced to a 29-3 lead at half time and did enough in the second period to emerge resounding 32-23 winners in the penultimate round of the competition at the Zayed Sports City.
Luke Stevenson contributed 22 points, firing six penalties and converted two first half tries scored by Brook Keats and Ben Bolger.
The visitors came back strong in the second half with 20 points to reduce the gap to six before Stevenson took the game to safety with a 30-yard penalty with 10 minutes left.
“It was big game and I’m glad I could contribute in this win and keep the race still wide open,” Stevenson said. “The forwards set the platform for a good first half and then they came back in the second half but we managed to hold them for this win.”
The Exiles are on 29 points, one ahead of the Quins with a home game each against the Dubai Hurricanes and Bahrain respectively on March 18.
“They are still one point ahead of us from a bonus point,” Stevenson said. “That’s something we may have to regret as we couldn’t take advantage in some of the earlier matches. Anyway, we’ll see how it all pans out at the end. So fingers crossed.”
Stevenson fired two penalties before his opposite number Durandt Gerber reduced the lead to 6-3. It was one-way traffic from then onwards for the Quins. The visitors crossed the Quins try line three times in the second half through Xonda Erockart, Renius Bothna and Gerber, who also added the extra points to raise their hopes, but that was as close they got.
A disappointed Exiles coach Jacques Benade credited Harlequins as deserving winners.
“They just looked hungrier than us,” he said. “I think maybe we came here and think about winning the cup too much and didn’t play rugby.
“They were very good and clinical in the first half. They were well disciplined. We conceded too many penalties and just didn’t do enough in the first half. They were outstanding in the first half and we were never going to come back from there.
“We did mistakes that we normally won’t do but, perhaps, they were better than us or hungrier than us, especially in the first half and that left us much to do at the end.”
Looking ahead to the final round, the Exiles coach struck a note of caution.
“We just have to work hard in the next two weeks.
“We get another chance but there is a lot of work to do. We are still safe, but you know, anything can happen in rugby. For us, I think we just need to win the next game and just forget about winning it with a bonus point.
“We’ll be very disappointed if we fall at the last hurdle. I just hope we don’t do the same mistake we did against the Harlequins.”
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