Dubai Exiles fall short to hand Western Clubs Champions League title to Abu Dhabi Harlequins

Abu Dhabi Harlequins celebrated winning the first trophy of the new season largely in absentia, after Dubai Exiles failed to beat Kandy by the requisite margin.

The Dubai Exiles, in red, ran out comfortable winners against Kandy but did not secure the required points to prevent the Abu Dhabi Harlequins from winning the Western Clubs Champions League.  Antonie Robertson / The National
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DUBAI // Abu Dhabi Harlequins celebrated winning the first trophy of the new season largely in absentia, after Dubai Exiles failed to beat Kandy by the requisite margin in the last match of the Western Clubs Champions League.

The UAE champions needed to beat their Sri Lankan counterparts by at least 40 points to leapfrog Harlequins at the top of the three-team table.

An experimental Exiles side delivered an uncharacteristically error-strewn performance, even though they did claim a 29-9 win at The Sevens, Dubai.

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One representative of the title-winning Abu Dhabi club had made it to the game. Alex Bailey, the club captain, was the nominated Harlequins member in attendance, at the request of the tournament organisers.

Wearing Harlequins club attire, he had appeared somewhat out of place on Exiles territory, at a game not involving his side, and accepted the trophy on the down low, with no pomp or ceremony at all.

He then posed for a quick photograph alongside it with his two small children, solely for the purposes of Harlequins’ website and social media push.

He will be able to celebrate with his team when the trophy is officially presented to them on September 23, when Harlequins start their West Asia Premiership campaign, ironically on the same pitch, against Dubai Hurricanes.

“We always want to win everything we can,” Bailey said. “The Premiership and the Dubai Sevens are our big aims, but you can’t dismiss any trophy, especially with the rivalry between Harlequins and Exiles as it was last season.

“It was nerve-racking watching this game, definitely. After the last 20 minutes, when Exiles turned it on and Kandy looked like they were tiring, I have no nails left.

“We are looking forward to playing Exiles again in three weeks time and I think it is going to be a very interesting season.”

Jacques Benade, the Exiles coach, had talked down the relevance of this competition before it started, but he could not hide his annoyance with the way they played against Kandy.

Exiles scored four tries, and had a 20-point buffer with 12 minutes to go, but they never looked like threatening to rack up the 40-point difference required to take the title.

“I was disappointed with our skill level,” Benade said. “We tried to force it. I think we all knew we had to chase 40 points, and that was in the boys’ minds.

“We didn’t play good rugby. I thought we were very poor and I am not happy at all.

“I think the players let themselves down, not to win the cup, but the way they played. From last week [when they drew 23-23 with Harlequins] we had a backward step.”

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