UAE rugby clubs call for reinstatement of play-offs and finals to maintain season-long interest

Paul Radley reports on the state of rugby in the Arabian Gulf, where the absence of finals systems has led to a rash of forfeitures near the end of the campaign.

DUBAI // The Arabian Gulf rugby season needs to be restructured again to incorporate play-offs and finals, according to the coaches of the country’s two leading clubs.

The UAE Premiership and the West Asia Championship have each been decided by a round-robin league format this season.

Dubai Exiles secured the status of the region’s No 1 side three weeks ago, and will add the Premiership title to their collection if they can avoid defeat against Al Ain Amblers Saturday.

If the manage it, it will be the second competition in which they have beaten Abu Dhabi Harlequins into second place.

Both sides have maintained commendably high standards until the end of the campaign, despite having their playing resources stretched to the limit, as evidenced by their hard-fought encounter at The Sevens last weekend.

Read more: Mission accomplished – With West Asia trophy, Dubai Exiles complete revival

Also see: Abu Dhabi Harlequins' Iziq Foa'i making great strides toward pro career in New Zealand

However, competitiveness elsewhere in the top flight has dropped alarmingly in the final throes of the season.

For example, Abu Dhabi Saracens have picked up 10 points via two bonus-point wins over the course of last weekend and this.

Yet each came via a walkover, as their opposition forfeited the fixtures. As such, Saracens players unwittingly had their season curtailed two weeks prematurely.

In the recent past, each of the domestic and the cross-border competitions were settled by a final. Under the previous system, sides who found themselves in mid-table late in the season could see a route to a trophy that has been cut off this time around.

Mike McFarlane, the coach of Abu Dhabi Harlequins, believes the previous method helped to maintain the interest of more sides for longer.

“Of course Saracens would prefer to play those matches, we all want to play as that is what we are involved in rugby for,” McFarlane said.

“The finals system, even if it is just the top two, happens all around the world, and it happened over here until this year, so I don’t know why they got rid of it.

“If it was going into the play-offs, we would be annoyed that we lost to Exiles last weekend, but we would still have a final to look forward to. I think it has had a big impact on the standards towards the end of the year.”

Jacques Benade, the Exiles coach, also thinks action needs to be taken to remedy the surfeit of forfeits.

The South African even floated the idea that imposing fines on clubs who withdraw from matches might be needed if UAE rugby is going to improve the standard of the league.

He believes a finals system needs to be reconsidered, although he did acknowledge that all his side had been thinking about this week was what they need to do to get over the winning line against Al Ain.

“I am a little worried but at the same time excited,” Benade said.

“We want to get the game started and see how we can finish off.

“What will be vital is if we can start well. Al Ain have to travel up here, have nothing to play for, and if we can start well things can go very well.

“If we don’t, and they get their tails up, it could be a very long day for us.”

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UAE Premiership


Dubai Exiles v Al Ain Amblers

Abu Dhabi Harlequins v Dubai Hurricanes

Jebel Ali Dragons v Abu Dhabi Saracens


1 Dubai Exiles 9 8 1 151 37

2 Abu Dhabi Harlequins 9 7 2 144 33

3 Abu Dhabi Saracens 9 6 3 96 30

4 Dubai Hurricanes 9 4 5 -35 21

5 Jebel Ali Dragons 9 2 7 -94 13

6 Al Ain Amblers 9 0 9 -262 4

The maths

• Dubai Exiles will win the league – and complete the Premiership and West Asia Championship double – if they avoid defeat against Al Ain Amblers

• Exiles could lose and still win the title. A four-try bonus point, as well as finishing within seven points of Al Ain, would mean they could not be caught.

• Abu Dhabi Harlequins could win the league if Exiles lose to Al Ain, and they collect a bonus-point win over Dubai Hurricanes.

• If Exiles get a single losing bonus point against Al Ain, and Abu Dhabi score four tries in beating the Hurricanes, the sides will finish level on points. They would also finish level if Exiles lose, Harlequins win, and neither side registers a bonus point.

• If the points are tied at the end, Harlequins have to advance their points differential against that of Exiles by more than seven points to win the league.

UAE Conference

Final table

1 Beaver Nomads 9 9 0 365 44

2 Jebel Ali Dragons III 9 7 2 259 35

3 Abu Dhabi Harlequins III 9 6 3 110 29

4 Al Ain Amblers III 9 6 3 101 29

5 Arabian Knights II 9 4 5 -43 22

6 Dubai Sharks II 9 4 5 -58 20

7 Dubai Sharks III 9 3 6 -91 15

8 UAE Shaheen 9 3 5 -231 14

9 Dubai Hurricanes III 9 2 7 -93 10

10 RAK Goats 9 1 8 -319 7