Bahrain have been declared West Asia Premiership champions, after the organisers of regional rugby confirmed no matches from this season will be carried over to the next after all.
Last Thursday, the UAE Rugby Federation issued a statement confirming the “suspension of all rugby activities at all clubs/academies for all age groups season 2019/20” because of the coronavirus outbreak.
As part of the same directive, they added that the “rescheduling of any remaining league fixtures/competitions to effectively take place during season 2020/21”.
However, it has now been decided that would be unworkable, and that this season’s winners would be decided based on league positions instead.
Gulf Rugby Management, the outgoing organisers of domestic rugby, wrote to club chairmen informing them “all outstanding league games be recorded as a 0-0 draw”, adopting the criteria as used at the Rugby World Cup for cancellations due to Typhoon Hagibis. They also confirmed there would be no finals.
As such, Bahrain have been declared champions of West Asia for the second season in succession, despite having two league matches outstanding, as well as a final against Dubai Exiles.
They had been keen to reschedule all three of those matches if possible, given the revenue it would have brought them at their home ground in Seer.
Bahrain missed out on more than a third of their home fixtures over the course of the campaign.
However, Adam Wallace, the Bahrain coach, said they were satisfied that a call had been taken now.
After their two outstanding fixtures, against Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Jebel Ali Dragons, were deemed draws, Bahrain topped the league by a point ahead of Exiles.
“It’s definitely not the end of the league that we wanted, but we are happy that it’s now finally resolved,” Wallace said.
“We set goals early on in the season and gradually worked towards them.
"We improved along the way, and I feel like we are in a really strong position to rightfully earn the title of West Asia Premiership champions.”
After the announcement made last week, clubs were conflicted in the way they felt the season should be decided.
Some believed the finals could be played as part of the pre-season schedule ahead of the next campaign.
Others felt, however, that the transitory nature of the game in the Gulf might mean playing squads could be substantially altered by the time competitive rugby is in a position to start again.
“Despite the fact the league has ended without any grand conclusion, we are glad they’ve taken the decision to end it now, draw a line under it, and start afresh next season,” Wallace said.
“Gulf rugby varies so much year to year that it would be unlikely to truly reflect the season by playing it after the summer.”
Dubai Exiles themselves were declared UAE Premiership champions, with GRM using the same criteria for the unplayed matches in the competition, and ruling out a final against Dubai Hurricanes.
Exiles lost just one game all season in that competition, and finished six points clear of second-placed Hurricanes.
“I am very proud of our first team’s achievement, they deserve the title,” Rob Riding, the Exiles chairman, said.
“We have worked hard this season, and I believe that we played some wonderful rugby.
“It is a pity that we could not play in the finals, as it would have been the ultimate for the players and the club.”
Hurricanes had been hopeful of playing the UAE Premiership final as a curtain raiser to next season, but to no avail.
The club, who won the Gulf Men’s League title at the Dubai Rugby Sevens in December, had raised the idea of playing the fixture ahead of the new campaign, with little upheaval as both clubs share the same home ground at The Sevens.
Abu Dhabi Saracens were confirmed as the winners of UAE Division One, and Barrelhouse won Division Two.