The last Northern Emirates Premiership game, of the Covid hit 2020-21 season, saw the Jebel Ali Dragons head up the E66 to face off against a, so far, undefeated Dubai Exiles side.
The Dragons would have come to The Sevens with a lot of confidence after they demolished the Dubai Hurricanes the week before by 40 points to 24. A win over the Exiles for the Jebal Ali team would have catapulted them to second place in the ‘unofficial’ Northern Emirates Premiership table above the Hurricanes and delivered the associated bragging rights.
As it turned out, the Jebel Ali Dragons ran into a Dubai Exiles side that had no desire to give up on any possibility of an undefeated season, even if it was a season of the hastily arranged ten-man format of the game…
DuRandt Gerber scores the Exiles‘ first try
Epeli Davetawalu gives ‘the stare’
It was clear from the moment that match official, Jaco de Wit, blew his whistle that both sides were prepared for an extremely physical encounter. The Exiles almost got off to a perfect start. DuRandt Gerber delivered a perfectly weighted kick off which was almost gathered by Jarrod Eglen. If the Australian youngster had managed to safely pluck the ball from the air, there was nothing between him and the Dragons‘ try line. Unfortunately for the Exiles and Jarrod the ball was spilled and gathered by the blue coloured Dragons.
From the outset it was clear that the Jebel Ali Dragons were going to look to try and physically dominate the men-in-black. It’s no secret that the Exiles Premiership squad is packed full of under 19 players this season. As is the Division 1 side that finished 2020-21 undefeated. Twenty Exiles’ under 19 rugby players have played senior Premiership and Division 1 rugby in Dubai this season.
The opening attacks from the Dragons were proving relatively effective. The ball was being moved along the back line and the attack ‘straightened up’ when it needed to be. It was pedestrian, but it was effective. It seemed like a strange decision when the Dragons kicked the ball away into touch. They’d made about 50 metres by holding onto the ball and changing the points of their probing attacks. However, from the ensuing Exiles’ lineout the ball was stollen by the Dragons and by the time the Exiles back line had adjusted, it was too late. The Dragons were over for the first score of the match. 0 – 5.
Jarrod Eglen was his usual dynamic self
Matt Mills gets higher than anyone else
The lead wasn’t held for long. Kenyan centre, Brad Owako, looked like he was going to do his utmost to thoroughly enjoy the physicality of the occasion. A constant problem for the Dragons, he crashed, bounced and thumped his way through the blue defence at every opportunity and on his inaugural charge opened up the space for DuRandt Gerber to cross for the Exiles’ first score. Converted by Gerber. 7 – 5.
It was a case of ‘anything you can do’ on the next Exiles possession. Jarrod Eglen had gathered the restart and offloaded the ball. When the ball got into the hands of Fijian, Epeli Davetawalu, he smashed it into the heart of the Dragons‘ defence, much to the audible delight of the Under 19 and Senior Ladies sides that he coaches at the Exiles. Brad Owako introduced a Dragons defender to gravity and sat him down on the grass before Jaen Botes joined in with the physics lesson and also parked a Dragons defender on the turf.
The Dragons only managed to temporarily halt the inevitable by giving away a penalty. Epeli Davetawalu drove the ball in, Dave Gairn fixed a defender and floated the ball to the onrushing Matt Mills who drove under the posts for the second Exiles try. Converted by Gerber. 14 – 5.
Brad Owako had his best game of the season
Dave Gairn stands up the Dragon’s defender…
… for Matt Mills to score
Within a minute of the restart the Exiles were over the try line again. Dragons had juggled the ball into the hands of Exiles’ South African wing, Schalk Du Preez, the young flyer found Jarrod Eglan on his inside who rumbled on to beat two would be defenders. When Jarrod was eventually scragged, he had the presence of mind to stay on his feet and offload to charging Namibian, Carel Thomas. 19 – 5 to Exiles.
The Dragons did pull a try back, just to keep the Exiles ‘honest’, but the signs were not looking promising for the rugby team from Jebel Ali.
When Jarrod Eglen crossed for the Exiles’ 4th try of the opening period, the signs were becoming bolded and underlined. Exiles teenager Arran Shah had just left the field after unfortunately sustaining a dislocated shoulder. When the game restarted DuRandt Gerber put a perfectly angled and weighted grubber behind the Dragons defence and Jarrod Eglen did a spectacular job of staying infield, gathering the ball from his bootlaces, and diving in at the corner. 24 – 10 to Exiles. End of first period.
Epeli Davetawalu scores under the posts
Schalk Du Preez is off to the races
Exiles captain, DuRandt Gerber, lays down the law
The Dragons again got off to the better start. Exiles had failed to gather the Dragons’ kick off and with a few Exiles’ teenagers on the pitch, probably thinking that UAE Premiership rugby is easy, the Exiles gave a soft penalty away in their own 22. The Exiles defence was working extremely hard, but a string of penalties close to the try line eventually allowed the Dragons to crash over. 24 – 15.
There’s nothing worse for a defence than a bouncing pass. When the ball is passed and goes to ground the defence stops. It stands still. Brad Owako had again caused an awful lot of damage to the Dragons line, carrying hard and direct. When Brad was felled on the 5m line Justin Walsh almost crossed but was stopped just short. A pop to Exiles’ outside half DuRandt Gerber, a long, Barnes Wallis bouncing bomb pass from the South African international and Epeli Davetawalu was through the stationary Dragons defence and under the posts. Again to the enthusiastic delight of the Exiles’ Under 19 girls and senior ladies teams. Converted by Gerber. 31 – 15.
Try time for Seb Sabania
The phrase ‘there’s no substitute for pace’ has been with us for many years, it’s often overused or misappropriated. When it comes to Schalk Du Preez it’s absolutely pertinent. The flying Exiles‘ wing often look like he needs oxygen after his scintillating sprints, but when he has a yard of space or a mismatched defender there’s inevitably only one outcome. With 11 minutes on the clock of the second period, Justin Walsh and Brad Owako had made the hard yards for the Exiles. Schalk Du Preez was hovering on the blind side. The Dragons forward assigned to shepherding him had no chance and once Schalk was around him and with one defender to beat the turbo kicked in. 36 – 15.
The final score of the second period again went to the men-in-black. A loose penalty kick from the Dragons failed to find its intended target. Carel Thomas gathered the ball in his 22 and immediately set the Exiles off on another attack, moving the ball from right to left and left to right.
The incisive moment came when DuRandt Gerber and Exiles’ teenager, Sebastian Sabania, spotted a badly doglegged Dragons defence. A perfectly delivered pass from Gerber and a wonderful line from Sabania sent the teenager through the generously gifted hole and unopposed under the posts. Converted by Gerber. 43 – 15. End of second period.
Jaen Botes was a thorn in the Dragons’ foot all game
The game was effectively over. The Dragons had visibly wilted in the warm and humid Dubai Sevens evening. They were still looking to play some rugby, but heavy disparity on scoreboards brings its own pressures. Risky offloads and passes become the status quo and pressure becomes self-inflicted. As it did for the Dragons.
Schalk Du Preez’s afterburners were still igniting, despite the overload of moisture in the air. Jarrod Eglen had made a magnificent leap to steal a Dragons lineout on the Exiles‘ 10m. Simple rugby had moved the ball across the back line, left to right, and given Schalk one defender to beat. Converted by Gerber. 50 – 15.
The Dragons did get to post another score. Matt Mills had received a yellow card for ‘something’ allowing Exiles’ Facebook streamer, all-round top bloke, and legendary clubman, Marc Why to finally use his animated card dispensing chicken on the live match stream – much to his delight. The Dragons had poured through the space where Matt would have been, a missed tackle in the backfield and over the line. 50 – 20.
DuRandt Gerber had a great day with his boot
It was fitting that the final paragraphs of the Exiles’ 2020-21 season should be written by two of the teenagers from the Under 19s. Robbie Sproul had enjoyed a fantastic debut season in senior rugby and displayed his speed and footwork on many occasions. When the gap to the left of a ruck was spotted, Robbie lifted the ball, hit the accelerator and added another 5 points. Converted by Gerber. 55 – 20.
Seb Sabania punctuated the 2020-21 season with a full stop. Maybe an exclamation mark. The hard working and physical teenager had spotted a tired Dragons‘ forward in the back line, and when the ball arrived in his possession the lightest of fends left him with a 50 metre jog to the Dragons‘ try line. Converted by Matty Johnstone. 64 – 20. Final Score. Dragons slain.
Seb Sabania brings down the final curtain
The ballboys, Samuel Tidman and Ty Vidal Nel, did a fantastic job!
Exiles’ Director of Rugby, Jacques Benade, smiled with about 17 seconds left on the clock
|Jaen Botes||Number Eight||0||0||0||0|
|Schalk Du Preez||Wing||2||0||0||0|
Jebel Ali Dragons
Dubai Exiles v Jebel Ali Dragons RFC
UAE Premiership (7th May 2021)