Jacques Benade, the Dubai Exiles coach, says all clubs in the region measure themselves against Abu Dhabi Harlequins, and is predicting a “massive” encounter with them this weekend.
Friday’s meeting at The Sevens, Dubai could have a significant bearing on where the West Asia Premiership title ends up.
The side from the capital hold a two-point advantage at the top of the table over their hosts. Harlequins have three matches remaining in their title defence, which also gives them a game in hand on second-placed Exiles.
Jebel Ali Dragons are level on points with Exiles, while Bahrain are also within striking distance, two points further back.
Fixtures between Exiles and Harlequins have tended to be pivotal in the title race in recent times. The Dubai club did the double two seasons ago, while their Abu Dhabi counterparts claimed a clean-sweep of trophies last time around.
“I think if you want to be a champion you have to go and beat Quins, then you can say, ‘Yes, we are successful’,” Benade said. “We see it as a massive game, and hopefully we always lift our game against them as well. It will be a brilliant game.”
Exiles lost ground at the top when they fell to a 19-11 defeat in Bahrain on Friday, and Benade wants a reaction from his side. “We have to get better because Harlequins are a top side, and I still think they are the team to beat if you want to go and win something,” Benade said.
“Quins are the club that I think we all look up to and say, ‘This is where we want to be, we want to be competitive every week, and competing for all the cups at the end of the season’.
“That is what they have been doing for the past six years. It is a huge game. They are the club everyone is chasing. They had a magic season last year, and are doing the same this time.”
The fact Harlequins are still setting the benchmark in Arabian Gulf rugby is quite some feat, given the troubles that have afflicted the club since they hauled five major trophies last season.
Last summer they lost their major sponsor, and a number of their all-conquering side left.
Even since the start of the campaign, they have lost key personnel, such as captain Ben Bolger, Phil Abraham, and most recently Emosi Vecanuau to either season- or career-ending injury.
“To have so many new faces, to have to change structures to suit the personnel, and then to embed that culture that we have always had, in such a short space of time, has been really impressive,” Harlequins coach Mike McFarlane said.
“It is something we are really proud of. We are not doing better than I thought we would, because I always have high expectations of the boys, and they do of themselves.
“But the league is so strong, with other sides acquiring new players, and with our financial situation, it is a great position for us to be in.”
McFarlane is also anticipating a highly physical encounter between sides that have always been fierce rivals, no matter where either of them have been placed in the league.
“They are well aware it is a massive game, because of the rivalry, where we both are in the table, and previous encounters,” McFarlane said. “It advertises the league well, having two big clubs going at it.
"Exiles have a quality, physical pack, with a good set-piece, they are organised, so it will be a big test for us.”