Sharjah Wanderers 27 Jebel Ali Dragons II 26
Wanderers Tries: Ermerins, Shepherd Greenwood, Bracken; Cons: Kiersey 2; Pens: Kiersey
Dragons Tries: Crossan, Van Zyl; Cons: Elliot-Square 2; Pens: Elliot-Square 4
Man of the match Isaac Porter (Wanderers)
SHARJAH // With the final play of the season, John Bracken touched down the try that restored Sharjah Wanderers to the winners circle for the first time in 13 years as they completed a thrilling comeback win over Jebel Ali Dragons second XV.
The one-point victory meant the Wanderers finished a season of triumph undefeated, earning them the UAE Conference title for the first time since 2003.
The Wanderers had eased to an 18-3 win in a match between the same sides seven days earlier, but the Dragons were good value for a 16-0 lead early in the final.
Photo gallery: UAE Conference final – Sharjah Wanderers slay Jebel Ali Dragons
Although the hosts reduced the arrears to a point by halftime, the Dragons, who were also last season’s defeated finalists, appeared to have the trophy in their grasp at 26-15 deep into the second phase.
Bracken’s try in the dying seconds capped a win and sparked emotional celebrations on the field for a club that has been starved of success in recent times.
“Not from the guys on the pitch, but for the guys on the sideline like myself there was a little bit of panic,” said club chairman Shane Breen, who was an ununsed substitute. “The last thing I remember winning was the Sharjah 10s plate, so this tops everything.
“It didn’t look like it was going to be until right at the end. The boys showed great character to edge their way back slowly into a position where we could go for the win. We took our chance in the last five seconds.”
The manner of defeat was tough on a Dragons side who had fine travelling support, including a number of first team players who had been in action in the Premiership the previous evening.
“Nobody deserved to lose,” Dragons coach Robbie Cameron said. “Sharjah deserve their win, they really do, but I feel sorry for my boys. They put everything in, and coming away with a win would have been good, but somebody has to lose and unfortunately it was us.”
Wanderers coach Nic Walters said his players had delivered under the most intense pressure they had faced all season.
“In the closing minutes, it was tense,” Walters said. “Under pressure in the last play of the game, executing those passes was not easy.
“We have done it in less stressful situations and squandered them, so to do it now was fantastic.”
Dubai Exiles stay on track for the double in UAE Premiership
Dubai Exiles, the newly-crowned West Asia champions, maintained their pursuit of a double of major trophies as they returned to UAE Premiership action with a 48-14 win over Abu Dhabi Saracens yesterday.
They will be counting the bruises ahead of the likely title-decider against Abu Dhabi Harlequins next week, though, after an abrasive encounter at The Sevens, Dubai.
Saracens captain Jaen Botes was red carded for a dangerous tackle on his UAE national team colleague Justin Walsh, and Exiles coach Jacques Benade said the scoreboard misrepresented how tough the assignment had been for his side.
“There are teams in this competition who, if you are not focused, can turn you around,” Benade said. “Saracens were very good today, very physical, and for our boys coming down from the high of last week [when the Exiles clinched the West Asia Championship], maybe this was the best game we could play.
“We have so much respect for Saracens. We knew it was going to be tough, they didn’t allow us to play any rugby, but the chances we got we put away.”
Harlequins maintained their slender advantage over Exiles at the top of the table after they beat Al Ain Amblers 48-34 in the Garden City.
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