Inspired Jebel Ali Dragons make it a perfect six by denying Abu Dhabi Harlequins again
ABU DHABI // Different captain, different coach. Same old Jebel Ali Dragons.
Over the past two seasons they have played six finals, won six. In 2013 they clinched a treble of domestic trophies by coming from behind to beat an Abu Dhabi Harlequins side who were unbeaten in the calendar year on their home patch.
Ditto for 2014.
In fact, just dig out the cuttings from the corresponding fixture last year, change a few of the names around at the top, and it should read more or less the same.
Even the travelling supporters wore the same club-issue Hawaiian shirts. Hopefully they have been washed in the meantime.
The sub-plots were similar, too. Last year, the away side were missing a key player, Tim Fletcher, as the final clashed with his honeymoon. This time around they were down two more players – each vital to the cause – because of matters of the heart.
Ian Overton, the free-scoring winger, was in the UK for his father’s funeral. The sides observed a minute’s silence before kick off as a mark of respect, while the Dragons players wore black armbands.
In addition, Paul Hart, last year’s successful captain and arguably the main driving force behind the Dragons’ recent domination of Middle East rugby, was also absent – though for far happier reasons.
The former captain’s second son was born at 11am on the morning of the game.
Rupert David Edward Hart does not know it yet, but he is clearly already a Dragon. He was expected to arrive in three weeks, but Dragons have a habit of turning up on finals days.
Whereas Fletcher kept abreast of last year’s final on Whatsapp from San Francisco, Hart managed to steal enough time way from parenting duties at Medcare hospital to keep updated via the club’s Facebook page.
Wherever they were in the world, Dragons would have been happy with what they read, after they overcame an early 11-6 deficit brought about by a try for Rob Buaserau and two Luke Stevenson penalties.
Losing a sixth successive final must have grieved the Harlequins enough, but the familiarity with their opposition’s game changers must have made them sick.
Sean Crombie scored two tries – just as he did in this game 12 months ago – while the other two scorers, Murray Strang and Imad Reyal, have switched allegiances from Quins since last year.
A second successive triple crown was fine reward for the new captain and coach partnership of Taif Al Delamie and Ross Mills.
The coach said he had felt under pressure to deliver more trophies after the successes of last season.
“I have felt like Rafa Benitez when he joined Inter Milan after Jose Mourinho won the treble,” Mills said. “My wife came in from work one day and I was panic stricken at home. She said, ‘what’s up with you’, and I said, ‘I’m coaching the Jebel Ali Dragons’.
“She said I had been happy with that a couple of weeks before, but I’d just taken a step back and realised what I had done. But the players have won this because of them, not me.”
Billy Graham, the Quins captain, felt his side had underperformed given their form in winning 10 successive matches this year.
“We lost our shape and our set piece was not as good as it has been in previous weeks and the Dragons were strong in those areas,” he said.
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Published: April 4, 2014 04:00 AM