Regional rugby clubs seek clarity over season’s final standings

Finals of West Asia Premiership among matches that remain to be played

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 28 FEBRUARY 2020. Rugby league. West Asia Premiership: Dubai Hurricanes v Jebel Ali Dragons at the Sevens Rugby grpund. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Paul Radley. Section: Sport.

The region’s rugby clubs are seeking clarity over how this season’s final standings will be decided, after the UAE Rugby Federation announced the season was over.

The governing body issued a statement on Thursday afternoon confirming the “suspension of all rugby activities at all clubs/academies for all age groups season 2019/20” because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The federation had already issued a similar directive on March 5, albeit with the possibility that the outstanding fixtures could be played if the situation improved.

Given that it has worsened in the time since, it is understandable the season has been brought to a halt.

However, the UAERF also added that the “rescheduling of any remaining league fixtures/competitions to effectively take place during season 2020/21” in the latest directive.

As well as one weekend of league fixtures still to run, there is also set to be finals in the West Asia Premiership, the UAE Premiership, as well as the divisions below.

Dubai Exiles and Bahrain, who were due to play for the cross-border title, both remain unclear as to if and when that match would take place.

Both sides want to play the game, with Exiles looking to avenge defeat to the same opposition in the corresponding fixture a year earlier.

If the title were to be decided on league standings, defending champions Bahrain would be the winners again, but they too have signalled their preference to play the final, on their home turf in Saar.

Exiles are also due to play in the UAE Premiership final, against their fellow tenants at The Sevens, Dubai Hurricanes.

Mike Wernham, the Hurricanes coach, said the idea of playing the fixture as a pre-season match would be possible.

“We hope there is an appreciation players across West Asia start their pre-season in June, it is a long road, and our goal was to make the Premiership final,” Wernham said.

“What my suggestion has been is that we have a memorial game at the start of every season, two, sometimes three weeks before the season official starts.

“We could play the game then against the Exiles. We are at the exact same site, there is no problems with that, but there would be technicalities that come in to play in terms of who would be allowed to play in terms of new squad players.

“My opinion is that we go with whoever is registered at this point.

“What an incentive for a player at the start of the season. It is not just about getting into a team, it is about getting straight into a final.”

A final in completely opposing year cycles simply cannot happen

In the tier below, however, the outstanding team in Division One are strongly against the idea of playing semi-finals and a final ahead of the next season.

Abu Dhabi Saracens topped the league phase of the competition with nine bonus-point wins out of nine. The last time they suffered defeat was 503 days ago.

Peter Henderson, the Saracens coach, said it would be “impossible” to play the finale to this season in six months’ time, and said his club “vehemently oppose” the idea.

“We play expat rugby in a commuting expat environment,” Henderson said.

“Due to working contracts and individual circumstances players move accordingly.

“To suggest it is fair and reasonable for a final to be played in completely opposing year cycles simply cannot happen.”

Henderson also raised the issue of which players would be eligible to feature, suggesting an influx of new players for one side or another could skew the competition.

“I agree that so much of what has gone on is out of our control,” Henderson said.

“However I also know to be true that creating a scenario that is not fair, not right and not realistic is something in our control.”