Jebel Ali Dragons 29
Abu Dhabi Saracens 12
Tries: Varawa, Bell, Volavola, Naisau, Henry
Cons: Bell, Fourie
Tries: Botha, Swart
Man of the match: Matthew Henry (Dragons)
DUBAI // Henry Paul, the Jebel Ali Dragons coach, said his squad will be patched together and ready to face Abu Dhabi Harlequins next weekend, after finally clinching the last end-of-season play-off place with a win over Saracens.
With just Friday’s match between Harlequins and Bahrain to go, the final league standings are now settled.
Harlequins are league champions. Doha will finish second, by dint of the fact their final fixture is a walkover, and thus a bonus-point win, against Dubai Hurricanes, who forfeited.
Doha will host third-placed Bahrain, who are unable to overtake their points tally no matter how they fare in the UAE capital today.
With the Hurricanes forfeiture already public knowledge, it meant all that was left to play for this weekend was the final play-off berth.
Dragons had appeared to have all-but clinched fourth place weeks ago, but a loss to Hurricanes seven days previously meant they still trailed Dubai Exiles by three points going in to this final league fixture.
Anything less than a win over Saracens would not have been enough for them to extend their season into the knockout phase.
They might have been nervous when they trailed their visitors 12-10 at the interval at the Centre of Excellence.
However, they had been playing into a strong wind in the first 40 minutes, and once they were kicking the other way, they were comfortable winners.
“We deserved what we got against Canes, but this week the boys really turned up,” Paul said. “In those conditions, I thought the wind was worth a 10-point difference, so to be two points behind at half time was not bad, even though we would have liked to have played more and kept the ball in hand.
“Kicks were going backwards. I didn’t even say anything to them at half time, the boys said everything themselves.”
Two Harlequins coaches, Mike McFarlane and Alistair Thompson, were watching from the sidelines.
They saw a Dragons side much changed from that which pushed them so close when the sides met in Jebel Ali earlier in the season, and Paul said there could yet be more enforced changes by the time they next meet.
“We have a lot to work on in terms of playing Quins,” Paul said. “I think we deserved to be in the top four. Now it is knockout rugby and you go back to square one.
“It was a bruising encounter. We have a lot of guys with ice packs, and it is going to be a case of managing the guys and trying to put out a healthy 22 next week.”
For Saracens, a 10th defeat of the season left them bottom of the table. The teams who did not make the play-offs are nominally set to play a consolation tournament. Whether that takes place now remains to be seen, though.
“These were tough conditions, and we had the wind in the first half, but we probably weren’t accurate enough with it,” Winston Cowie, the Saracens player-coach, said. “A two-point lead wasn’t enough. They pinned us down in our half, scored some good tries in the second half, and that was the game.
“I thought the boys certainly put in the effort in defence in the second half, but when you are under that much pressure, something has got to give.”
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