Dubai Exiles’ Conor Air scores under the posts
There’s no doubt that of all the UAE Mini & Youth Rugby Finals played on Friday evening the clash between the Dubai Exiles Under 16s and the Dubai Tigers Under 16s was the most hotly anticipated game of the evening. It was so hotly anticipated that the Exiles‘ social media channels had been messaged all week with questions about the game being streamed on Facebook for people who couldn’t be at The Sevens on Friday night.
It would come as no surprise to anybody who follows Mini & Youth rugby in the UAE that this game would have been a pretty hot ticket. Both sides have been the stand out teams in the UAE’s Under 16 A League with every game between them in the 2021-22 season being incredibly close, tense, and thrilling affairs. In January’s HSBC Mini & Youth Rugby Festival the Exiles had snuck away with a win in the Cup Final by 5 points to nil. In the Abu Dhabi Cup Final, it was another one score win for the Exiles.
As the game kicked off, the galleries of the Players’ Clubhouse at The Sevens Stadium, and around the pitch looked more akin to a UAE Premiership match than and Under 16s game. As it turned out, everybody gathered to watch was treated to another absolute thriller between two sides with incredible skill levels.
It was clear from he opening kick off that there was going to be a feast of rugby to be enjoyed on this particular Friday evening on Pitch 7 at The Sevens. As they’d done all season, both teams set their stalls out from the kick off and started going at each other. It was the Exiles Under 16s who got the first point onto the scoreboard. Max Wilson had made a break in the middle of the field after a rare lapse in Tigers‘ concentration. Max attacked the red zone in much the same way the Tottenham Hotspur don’t and gave the Exiles forwards a target.
A penalty and the Exiles were on the attack again, moving the ball from right to left before being forced into touch five meters out from the try line. The Tigers gathered their throw and cleared their 22 but it was still Exiles with the territory and possession advantage. Hard carrying thumped the ball back into the Tigers‘ 22 before scrum half and Exiles Under 16s captain, Charlie Pollard, had a dart at the defense. Another penalty, this time dispatched into the corner by Exiles‘ fullback, Bryan Shelley.
The initial surge from the Exiles‘ forwards was repelled by the Tigers defense, when the ball was moved along the back line a superb pass from Bryan Shelley took out two defenders and put wing, Jayden Arnolda, into the smallest of spaces and across the try line. 5 – 0 to Exiles Under 16s.
Nicholas Fritz pushes the ‘go pedal’ encouraged by most of the onlookers!
The early Exiles score sparked the Tigers and they found another gear for the next 20 minutes. It was a steadfast Exiles‘ defense they faced and repeated excursions into the Exiles‘ 22 were met with a miserly defence that was so tight that Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge would have been impressed.
The Exiles‘ line-out jumpers did a great job of disrupting Tigers’ ball
You have to give a lot of credit to the match officials for making it an incredibly exciting game
When the Tigers‘ score did come, it took a little bit of vision and magic from their more than capable number 10. When it looked like the Tigers attack was about to be quelled once again a feint of pass drew the Exiles defence further forward then they needed to be and a beautifully weighted kick found a Tigers‘ attacker all on his own behind the Exiles and it was 5 – 5 with 19 minutes played.
It was the Dubai Tigers Under 16s who had the last word of the first half. With 26 minutes played they’d delivered a penalty to the 5 meter line. When the hooker delivered the ball the Exiles opted not to contest, it was an easy gather for the Tigers and a well constructed maul powered its way over the try line. 5 – 10 to Tigers Under 16s at half time.
Thomas Clerkin is pretty pumped after the Exiles‘ second try!
There are massive moments in the big games. In the men’s UAE Premiership Final that moment came 8 minutes into the second half, and didn’t go the Exiles way. In the UAE Under 16s Final the big moment didn’t have anything to do with a referee’s decision. It was for all intents and purposes a fairly innocuous play, however, when 90 seconds into the second half an Exiles defender managed to get under a Tigers attacker and stop a try, it kept the score at 5 – 10. 5 – 15 or 5 – 17 would have been a totally different proposition to chase. The goal line drop out was delivered, and it was a belter – literally. The Exiles Under 16s had opened the pressure valve and got out of jail.
Bryan Shelley kicked superbly
Conor Air splits the Tigers’ defense
The tackling from both sides was of the highest quality
The Exiles had been carrying hard and moving the ball well, the Tigers defence had been studying their Charles Dickens too and weren’t giving anything away for free. It was an absolutely captivating game of rugby, a case of who would blink first. As it turned out it was the Tigers who blinked. Scrum half Alessio Coviello threw an outrageous dummy from the base of a ruck and went clean through. A pop pass, Exiles‘ forwards making themselves available, wanting the ball and a couple of rucks later, Exiles‘ lock Tadeas Macek crashed over the line to level the scores at 10 all. The conversion was not an easy one, but Bryan Shelley delivered a peach of a kick that edged the Exiles Under 16s into a 12 – 10 lead.
Appropriately named Conor Air gave the Exiles Under 16s breathing space just a few minutes later. Max Wilson had again caused the initial problems for the Tigers defence, the ball was moved from the ruck and the smallest of dog legs was spotted in the Tigers‘ line by the Exiles Number 8 who outstripped the defence to score under the posts. Converted by Shelley 19 – 10 to the Exiles Under 16s, twenty-ish minutes left to play.
Callum Morris pounced for the Exiles’ fourth try
It was a huge moment in the game, anybody who was familiar with the history of this fixture during the 2021-22 UAE Mini & Youth rugby season would know that a two score advantage was a very big deal. Even so, the nerves of both Exiles and Tigers supporters had another twenty minutes to be jangled. The game re-established its pattern. Two hard working attacks, two incredibly hard working defences. Even at 19 – 10 there was still a feeling around The Sevens Stadium that the match could still go either way. Who will blink – again.
The answer to the ‘blinking’ question was no-one. Both sides kept up the incredible intensity. It was only when the Tigers had to play desperation rugby that the Exiles finally guaranteed the ‘A’ League title. After a rare Exiles handling error the Tigers looked to run the ball out from behind their own try line with the game clock approaching its end. The Exiles trapped them on their 5 meter line and took possession of the ball. A couple of quick pick and goes and prop Callum Morris went over near the posts. Converted by Bryan Shelley. 26 – 10 to the Exiles Under 16s, final score.
Exiles Under 16s and UAE men’s 7s Assistant Coach, DuRandt Gerber
Exiles Under 16s Forwards coach, Jaen Botes
DUBAI EXILES U16s v DUBAI TIGERS U16s
UAE Under 16 Rugby Final (15th April 2022)