Jacques Benade full of praise for Dubai Exiles after narrow West Asia final defeat to 'superb' Bahrain

Bahrain had been the dominant force this season, and looked to be cruising to victory in Saar, only for the Exiles to come within inches of claiming the win

Bahrain players celebrate after beating Dubai Exiles in the final of the West Asia Premiership final. Courtesy Bahrain RFC
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Jacques Benade, the Dubai Exiles coach, said Bahrain represent the standard all clubs in the region should aspire to – but also heaped praise on his own side for the fight they showed in their West Asia Premiership final defeat.

Bahrain had been the dominant force in the league this season. They won 14 out of 15 regular season games, finishing the regular season 13 points clear of their closest rival, and 26 ahead of their final opponents, the Exiles.

The final was played in front of the sort of vocal home support in Saar that is the envy of all other clubs in the Arabian Gulf.

For around 70 minutes, the hosts showed just why they had been so irresistible all season - and yet they were inches away from losing out after time had elapsed in the final game of the campaign, after an extraordinary finish.

Bahrain had held a 20-6 lead at half-time, and were 23-13 ahead with time ticking down. The Exiles, though, performed courageously in the final throes.

As a marker of the away side’s confidence during their late surge, they opted to kick a penalty when 10 points down with just four minutes left. A converted try after that would have forced extra-time.

Their plan almost worked even better than imagined. After pounding away at the Bahrain line in stoppage time, Exiles winger Michael Stubbs scored in the right-hand corner.

He was hit late in the process of doing so, with the result that Exiles were awarded a halfway-line penalty to follow the conversion.

DuRandt Gerber dragged the touchline conversion wide of the left-hand post, which would have levelled the scores at 23-23. He still, though, had the chance to win it by a point with a kick from halfway.

The Exiles captain could not have come any closer. It was so close, in fact, that the away players celebrated as if it had won the game, while the hosts appeared crestfallen.

After a consultation between the officials, though, it was ruled to have passed just underneath the crossbar.

It meant Bahrain were 23-21 winners, champions of West Asia, and Benade could not begrudge them their achievement.

“That crowd is unbelievable,” Benade said. “Of course, we would have loved to have seen that ball go over. It was tough. There was so much emotion. We thought the kick had gone over.

“We looked to our left and all their [Bahrain’s] replacements had their hands on their heads, and we were all jumping for joy. Then the next moment, it was the opposite.

“It was unreal. I’m gutted for the boys, for the way they came back, and the belief they had in the team.

“Afterwards, the spectators were all giving us their applause. It is just a nice place to play. It would be so good to have something like that in Dubai.”

Had Exiles actually forced extra-time, they would have missed their scheduled flight home. As it was, they made it to their airport 30 minutes before take-off, and were initially denied the chance to board, only for a call to flydubai’s office in the UAE to help smooth their return.

“The whole week we were talking about, if we could be in that game for the last 20 minutes, we would maybe have a chance,” Benade said.

“I don’t know why. Against them, we always finish well, and we always have that belief. Bahrain were outstanding in the first-half, so clinical, and played great rugby.

“Then, things changed. We knew there could be extra-time, and when we decided to take the points, there was not one of the boys who looked across and said, ‘No, no, no, we want to go for the corner’.

“They all realised it was just seven minutes left, and it was the right decision. I knew those boys could score. I know what they are capable of.”

Mike Wolff, the Exiles chairman, echoed Benade’s sentiments. “It was an amazing match and a brilliant atmosphere,” Wolff said.

“Bahrain have had an amazing season, and were superb hosts. They were great value for their win, and for being West Asia champions.”