Jacques Benade calls for final push from Dubai Exiles against Abu Dhabi Harlequins

Coach says defending champions are up for the fight against familiar rivals in UAE Premiership finale at The Sevens

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Undefeated in XVs rugby in nearly three years. This season’s Dubai Sevens trophy already on the mantelpiece. And now 80 minutes away from defending the UAE Premiership title they have held since the first wave of Covid.

Dubai Exiles might be excused for already feeling satisfied with themselves ahead of Saturday’s final, on home territory at The Sevens against Abu Dhabi Harlequins.

Far from it, according to coach Jacques Benade, who says that sort of thinking will be punished given the excellence of their opposition.

“Sometimes you can be a little bit complacent – but against Abu Dhabi, you can never be complacent,” Benade said.

“They are an outstanding team, and they showed [in their semi-final playoff against Dubai] Tigers how good they can be.

“It is going to be an outstanding game. I think both teams want to throw the ball around, so for the UAE rugby community to come out and watch, I think it is going to be a magic occasion.”

The last time Exiles experienced defeat to a UAE side was against Harlequins in February 2019. They subsequently lost out on the main prize at the end of that season after a nail-biting finale in Bahrain.

The following season, they won the Premiership, but had to celebrate remotely after the season was curtailed by the onset of the pandemic.

UAE Premiership semi-final play-off between Abu Dhabi Harlequins (in white) and Dubai Tigers at Zayed Sports City on Saturday, March 5, 2022. Antonie Robertson / The National

Benade said their sustained run of success has been so impressive, they have resembled the Harlequins side who led the way in regional rugby midway through the last decade.

“We look like Harlequins five or six years ago,” Benade said. “They had a steady team that was hard to get in, and the boys who did come in lifted the team as well.

“For the past two years, we have been like Harlequins were. You dip again then you have to build again, but we are very happy with where we are at the moment.

“We have a nice squad, we always work as a first and second XV team together, and there is competition between the boys as well. All that helps when the boys play together on a Saturday.”

The side from the capital lost twice to Exiles in the regular league season, and also went down in their final game before the playoffs against the rapidly improving Tigers.

They bounced back to beat the same opposition in convincing fashion in the playoff a week later, but Niall Lear, the Harlequins coach, says they still remain second favourites ahead of the final.

“They’re unbeaten, they’re the form team, and they’re expected to win - that suits us,” Lear said of the challenge ahead against the Exiles.

The fact Harlequins have made the final is a notable achievement itself. While Exiles were playing in – and winning – a tournament using rules modified because of Covid restrictions in Dubai last season, Abu Dhabi’s clubs went entirely without rugby for a whole campaign.

“At the start of the year, we set ourselves some pretty lofty goals,” Lear said.

“Winning the final was one of them. It is great we are in this position, and absolutely we will be proud of the boys regardless of the outcome.

“Theoretically, we should be about a year behind in terms of rugby development. We have shown that is not the case.

“We will be massively proud of the group, regardless of what happens. But our goal is to win. We are in a really good position in that we have a squad of about 35 we could be picking from who are good enough to play in the first XV.

“That is great, for us to have that many players coming back every week enjoying themselves. That is a win for us as well.”

Updated: March 18, 2022, 4:00 AM
EDITOR'S PICKS