DUBAI // Jebel Ali Dragons’ monopoly on domestic rugby’s top trophies was interrupted on Friday night when Abu Dhabi Saracens ended their defence of the UAE Premiership.
The depleted champions surrendered their grip on the crown when a 22-6 loss in the capital meant they missed out on a place in the grand final.
Their slip allowed Dubai Hurricanes, last year’s defeated finalists, and Abu Dhabi Harlequins to leapfrog them in the table after both sides claimed heavy victories at The Sevens, Dubai.
Hurricanes, who had handed Dragons a first defeat of the season last week, thrashed Dubai Exiles 46-20.
On the neighbouring field at The Sevens, Harlequins were even more dominant, as they beat an injury-ravaged Xodus Wasps Dubai 54-19.
Hurricanes should enjoy home advantage for a final that is scheduled for next weekend, although speculation suggests it is possible the match may have to be rearranged.
The resources of the UAE Rugby Referees have been stretched to the limit this season and they also have to staff an international sevens tournament for developing Asian nations at Al Ain.
Both sides will be hoping the game goes ahead as planned, though, to ensure their leading lights are available to play.
Jeremy Manning, the Harlequins player-coach, is set to turn down an invitation to play at the Singapore Sevens so as to fulfil his final commitment.
The Abu Dhabi playmaker was at his virtuoso best in the win over Wasps. If ever a highlights reel is produced for this season, the try he scored – one of seven for Quins – deserves to be the opening sequence.
Tellingly, he was in stunning form with the boot, too. When Quins lost to their final opponents this season, Manning missed a kick at the end of the game that would have won it.
How things change.
At times Friday night it seemed like Manning could be stood on the neighbouring field, where Hurricanes and Exiles were playing, and still successfully kick for goal.
“Training was not very good this week and Wasps came through firing, but fair play to our boys. They flipped a switch in the second half and played very decent rugby,” Manning said. “After losing two games at the start of the season, it wasn’t looking great for us, but we dug in at training and a few of the boys are starting to show up and starting to fire.
“You can see that the stuff the boys are working on at training is coming off on the paddock, and that is great for a coach to see.”
Hurricanes have reason to hope the final goes ahead next weekend, as it will ensure Andy Powell is available to play.
The fly-half, who, like Manning, originates from New Zealand, was man of the match in the win against the Dragons the previous week and was peerless again in the win over the Exiles.
Powell scored one try of his own, set up another for Mike Rust with a slaloming run down the field, and later gave up another for a teammate when he passed the ball, unpressured, while over the try line.
“Andy, in my view, is the best No 10 and probably the best player in the Gulf,” Hurricanes captain Daniel Perry said.
“We are lucky to have him, but he can’t do anything without the ball and our forwards had a stormer today.
“From one to 22 I think everyone had a stormer and it has been a squad effort through the season.
“We are 90 per cent done – now there is just 10 per cent more to go.”
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