Short-handed Abu Dhabi Harlequins fight to reach West Asia Cup final ‘with just 14 lads’

Abu Dhabi Harlequins stayed on course for a perfect five titles this season after beating Jebel Ali Dragons to reach the West Asia Cup final.

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Abu Dhabi Harlequins 23 Jebel Ali Dragons 14

ABU DHABI // Abu Dhabi Harlequins stayed on course for a perfect five titles this season after beating Jebel Ali Dragons to reach the West Asia Cup final.

The side from the capital achieved the win the hard way as they played for 55 minutes with only 14 men.

Chris Jones-Griffiths, the UAE prop, was shown a red card for a high tackle in the course of Dragons scoring their second try, in the 25th minute.

When Daniel Bell converted that score by Ryno Fourie, to add to the earlier effort by his namesake Gio Fourie, the away side held a 14-3 lead, as they made the most of a strong wind at their backs.

However, they failed to register a point thereafter, as Harlequins summoned admirable fight in the face of adversity.

Luke Stevenson, playing in a new position of fullback, hit back with a try before half time, as part of an 18-point personal haul.

As a heavy shower struck and lightning flashed nearby, Emosi Vecanuau powered over for a second-half try for Harlequins.

A third Stevenson penalty stretched the lead to nine points, and the home side’s spirit was epitomised by a heroic last-ditch tackle and turnover by captain Ben Bolger, which kept the Dragons at bay.

“Even with just 14 lads, they were still forcing Dragons to make mistakes, and they were just class, one to 22,” Mike McFarlane, the Harlequins coach, said of his side.

Harlequins have already won the Western Clubs Champions League, the Dubai Sevens and the West Asia Premiership so far this season. They can add two more trophies to their haul over the next two weekends.

They will face Bahrain in the West Asia Cup final on Friday, after the side who finished third in the region’s cross-border league shocked Doha in Qatar.

Bahrain won their semi-final 23-22, despite only having a week to organise their exact travel plans, after the draw for the Cup semi-finals was decided on the final weekend of the Premiership season.

They will have to do likewise again now, as they will travel to face Harlequins, who beat them at the same venue last weekend, at Zayed Sports City.

“We were looking forward to playing Doha because we have some unfinished business with them,” McFarlane said of the only side to have beaten his team this season.

“But this will be a great final with two quality sides going head to head.”

Dragons will get the chance to avenge a third loss of the season against Harlequins when the two sides meet again in the final of the UAE Premiership on April 7.

“It is frustrating because, in the first game in Jebel Ali [in November] I thought we deserved to win,” Henry Paul, the Dragons captain said.

“In the second [in February] they taught us how to play, but today I thought it was pretty even. They played the wind and conditions better than us.

“I have to tip my hat to them, and I look forward to seeing them again on Feb 7.”

Harlequins

Tries: Stevenson, Vecanuau

Cons: Stevenson 2

Pens: Stevenson 3

Dragons

Tries: G Fourie, R Fourie

Cons: Bell 2

Man of the match: Ben Bolger (Abu Dhabi Harlequins)

pradley@thenational.ae

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