Bahrain edge past Dubai Exiles to clinch West Asia Premiership title

Exiles mount fierce comeback after being down 23-13 before game ends 23-21 to Bahrain in Saar

DUBAI - UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - 07OCT2016 - Dubai Exiles and Bahrain (in red) tussels for the ball in the West Asia Premiership rugby match yesterday at The Sevens, rugby grounds in Dubai. Ravindranath K / The National (to go with Paul Radley story for Sports) ID: 74521 *** Local Caption ***  RK0710-Rugby10.jpg

Bahrain were crowned champions of West Asia after an extraordinary finish to the Premiership’s grand final against Dubai Exiles in Saar on Friday night.

Playing in front of a packed crowd, the home side held on for a 23-21 victory despite a stunning late fightback from the Exiles.

Bahrain had been 20-6 up early in the second half after two tries from centre Jack Phillips and faultless kicking by Ross Preedy.

Exiles crossed for the first time with 15 minutes left with a pushover try, but the hosts appeared to have settled the tie when Leon Mauer kicked a penalty immediately after, to give Bahrain a 23-13 advantage.

The tourists refused to concede defeat, though. DuRandt Gerber, their captain, struck a penalty, and Exiles forged on, even when time had elapsed.

After their forwards pounded away at Bahrain’s tryline, deft passes from Gerber and Ed Armitage provided space for Michael Stubbs, the Exiles winger, to speed over in the right-hand corner.

Stubbs was hit late in the act of scoring the try. A melee ensued, after which Bahrain lost a man to a red card. Perhaps of greater significance, though, the foul play ensured Gerber had two shots at goal.

The first – the conversion – would have levelled the scores, and forced extra-time, pending the outcome of the penalty kick which followed because of the late hit.

Gerber dragged the touchline conversion wide of the left-hand post, but still had a chance to win it for the away side, with the penalty from halfway.

That had been exactly how the fly-half had opened the Exiles’ account in the final, with a first-half penalty from halfway.

He struck the final kick of the West Asia Premiership season sweetly, too, and the Exiles players celebrated wildly what they thought had been the final piece of a remarkable comeback.

It was not to be, though, as, following a consultation between the three match officials, the ball was ruled to have passed just under the crossbar.

Given they had finished the regular league season comfortably ahead of the field - and 26 points clear of their final opponents, who finished third in the table – Bahrain can be considered more than deserving champions.

The nature of the late comeback for the Exiles, however, meant they had earned respect, too.