West Asia rugby is set for its closest finish to a season in recent memory, after this weekend’s results meant the top four Premiership sides are now split by just two points with two weeks remaining.
Dubai Exiles leapfrogged Abu Dhabi Harlequins, the defending champions, at the top of the table with a 37-30 win over them at The Sevens, Dubai. Simultaneously, Jebel Ali Dragons thrashed Abu Dhabi Saracens, and Bahrain were comfortable winners at home to Dubai Hurricanes.
All of which means Exiles, having played a match more than each of their rivals, are level on 38 points at the top with Dragons. Harlequins are a point behind, with Bahrain a further point back from them.
Each of the teams are juggling frayed playing resources at the back end of a bruising season. One switch brought about by necessity proved key to Exiles unlocking a Harlequins side who suffered just their second loss of the campaign.
Tomas Sackmann made the unusual move from his regular position in the second row to play on the right wing instead.
For the second time this season, the Argentine proved the man for the big occasion. He scored two tries, just as he had done when the Exiles won the Dubai Rugby Sevens title in December.
“It’s not an obvious move, but I play sevens, so I’m quite fast for being a forward which is why they tried me on the wing,” Sackmann said. “I did it four times last season because we had the same problem, being short of backs. It was really not a normal thing, but because we were short.
“In Argentina I always played flanker or second row. I never in my life expected to play on the wing. Luckily, it was better than I expected, because I never expected to score two tries in a really important match.
“We are really happy with the win and really focused on the next match.”
Exiles coach Jacques Benade was delighted his side had ensured they remain in contention for the Premiership title as the season reaches his finale – and that the Sackmann experiment worked.
“It happens that sometimes players who start in the back row move to centre or the other way round, but you don’t really see players move from the pack to the wings,” Sackmann said.
“We were just lucky. Tomas is always game. He is a really key man, and whatever is best for the team, he says, ‘Just play me there’. He is ones of those who just plays for the shirt, wherever you need him.
“We are very lucky to have guys like that in the squad. Hopefully that will push us through the end of the season.
“There are semifinals and finals to come now, and I think it is too tight to call. Anyone can beat anyone so there are going to be some interesting games coming up.”