Bahrain hope to play final West Asia Premiership fixtures under threat from coronavirus outbreak

Coach Wallace insists they want to fulfill remaining two regular season games, despite the fact they will be declared champions if matches are cancelled

Bahrain players celebrate after beating Dubai Exiles in the final of the 2019 West Asia Premiership final. Courtesy Bahrain RFC
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Bahrain hope the decision to cancel the remainder of the West Asia Premiership rugby season can be reviewed – even though they appear certain to win the title as a result.

On Monday, the decision was made by the league’s organisers to end the cross-border competition prematurely, in response to the travel complication brought about by coronavirus.

In announcing the decision, Gulf Rugby Management said the final standings for the competition would be decided in due course, but that UAE competitions would continue.

That meant Bahrain would not play their final two regular season fixtures, both home matches against Abu Dhabi Harlequins and Jebel Ali Dragons, or a probable home final.

At the point the decision was taken, they held a two-point league at the top of the table. As such, it must be assumed their will retain the title they won 12 months earlier.

Using the World Cup as a precedent for how points are handed out in the case of a cancelled fixture, Bahrain would likely be awarded two draws for the remaining matches – so four more points to their tally.

Second-placed Dubai Exiles will still play their last remaining regular season match, against Dubai Knights Eagles at Sports City on Wednesday night.

However, points from that will likely only count towards the UAE Premiership – with the match being deemed a draw for the purposes of the West Asia competition.

Adam Wallace, the Bahrain coach, is hopeful an alternative solution could yet be found.

“We want to play the fixtures,” Wallace said. “We don’t want it to be a case that the fixtures couldn’t be played out, so we retained the title.

“It is something we have been working towards, and it would be nice to finish that. Whatever the outcome might be, we want to earn it.”

Bahrain are the only side based outside the UAE in the seven-team competition. This season, they have played four home matches, and flown to the UAE for six.

All the other sides involved are scheduled to travel within the UAE for all but one match of the season.

Abu Dhabi Harlequins were unable to travel to Bahrain for their last match in the competition at the weekend, because of flight issues related to the coronavirus outbreak.

The game was postponed until Friday March 13, only for it then to be cancelled altogether when the decision was made to end the season.

Harlequins were out of the running for a place in the final, but Andy Cole, the club’s chairman, had said they would fulfill the fixture if the flight logistics permitted it.

“We were advised not to go [last Friday] as we weren’t sure if we would be able to get back again, so the match was postponed,” Cole said.

“The main issue was with flights going out of Bahrain. We are happy to play the match, even though there is nothing in it for us in terms of the league.”

Being the only non-UAE club means the annual costs incurred by Bahrain to travel are greater than their rivals.

They are able to offset that though because, unlike most other clubs they benefit from substantial revenue at their clubhouse for home matches.

With two matches cancelled – and likely a third, in the case of a home grand final – their match day revenue will be some way short of what they had planned for.

“It is really, really important for us as a rugby club to host these games,” Wallace said.

“It is a big thing for the club itself in terms of revenue, as well as gaining exposure for rugby in Bahrain and developing rugby for the Kingdom of Bahrain.

“The club are very supportive in terms of the travel our first XV have to make going to away games.

“There could be other solutions for us in terms of going to UAE for the last few fixtures, but the reality is we need those fixtures at home.”