Club Captain, Lukas Waddington, lines up a pass
There was no icing or ‘cherry on top’ for Dubai Exiles RFC as the 2021-22 UAE Premiership Rugby season concluded at the Sevens Stadium on Saturday evening. Full congratulations to the Abu Dhabi Harlequins for their part in making it an incredible game of rugby that delighted and thrilled any ‘neutral’ spectator. As disappointing as it was for any Dubai Exiles fan, the Premiership trophy headed down the 311 to the capital with a deserved Harlequins team. Nobody can deny – throughout the 2021-22 rugby season, the Dubai Exiles baked one heck of a cake!
Exiles’ Gareth Bacon ran out on pitch with his daughters Sophia and Bethany for his 50th appearance in an Exiles‘ shirt.
It was a very good crowd at The Sevens Stadium. In the Division 1 final they spectators had been treated to a thrilling match in which the Al Ain Amblers defeated Hurricanes 2 with a ‘golden try’ in extra time. That match had set a very high bar for the ‘entertainment standard’ for the Premiership final – it did not disappoint.
With the Exiles‘ galleries full and refreshments of various sorts flowing across the Exiles’ Clubhouse bar, everybody from Exiles‘ Under 6s to Under 19s, girls, boys, mums, dads, sons, daughters, grandparents, girlfriends and wives had come along to support the Men-in-Black. It was an incredible atmosphere.
Before a ball was kicked, the first order of the day was for Exiles‘ stalwart, Northern Irishman, Gareth Bacon, to enjoy well deserved applause for his 50th appearance in a Dubai Exiles shirt. Gareth, who has been a player at the club since 2012, took to Pitch 6 at The Sevens with his daughters Sophia and Bethany who both enjoy playing rugby at the Exiles. Sophia with the Under 6s on a Saturday morning and Bethany with the Under 7s.
Ball Boys from the Exiles’ Under 12s
Ball Boys from the Exiles’ Under 12s
It wasn’t the greatest start for the Exiles. Number 10, Justin Walsh, sent the kick off high, but a bit too long and straight into touch. A dominant first scrum from the Abu Dhabi Harlequins and the capital outfit were on the attack in the Exiles‘ 22. If the Exiles had walked onto the pitch half asleep, they had certainly been wakened from their slumber after a few defensive sets near their own try line.
The defensive hard work paid off in the end when Justin Walsh sent the ball the best part of 70 metres down the pitch and relieve the pressure.
The first opportunity to register on the scoreboard fell to Exiles‘ teenager Marcus Kruger. The DESC schoolboy has a been a regular feature in UAE Premiership for the Exiles this season and plays with a maturity and confidence that’s well beyond his 18 years. From 44 metres out he sweetly struck the penalty through and beyond the uprights. 3 – 0 to Exiles. 14 minutes played.
From the restart the Harlequins were immediately on the attack. It’s very well documented that teams, even at International level, can be guilty of going to sleep after a score. This was no exception. With the Exiles still congratulating themselves for the 3 points their defense was caught napping and a well directed chip found a grateful ‘Quins player touching it down. 3 – 5 to Harlequins. 16 minutes played.
DESC Schoolboy, Marcus Kruger, scored 23 points
Carel Thomas is ready to go
The breakdown was proving to be extremely combative. Captain, Pieter Killian, was carrying hard and direct with back rows Matt Mills and Anthony Kapp having to work hard to give Carel Thomas any sort of ‘clean’ ball. The Abu Dhabi Harlequins were proving to be very disruptive at any breakdown. On 20 minutes the referee, Jaco de Wit, decided they were being a little too disruptive and up stepped youngster Marcus Kruger to kick another 3 points. 6 – 5 to Exiles.
The Exiles‘ first try of the match went to fullback Conor Kennedy. The Zimbabwean is a veritable box of tricks and his dancing feet in the UAE Premiership this season have seen him called into the Zimbabwean National squad. In fact, Conor‘s flight to join The Sables training camp was leaving the very next morning.
Kenyan Brad Owako caused the initial damage, latching on to a loose ball and powerfully bulldozing his way through the front line defenders. Carel Thomas took up the charge followed by Justin Walsh. ‘Walshy’ is a big man as the first Harlequins defender discovered. When the ball reached Conor Kennedy, he still had an awful lot to do. By the time he’d danced his way over the try line, he’d left 5 Harlequins‘ defenders scratching their heads and wondering what just happened. Converted by Marcus Kruger. 13 – 5 to Exiles. 25 minutes played.
A great crowd in the Exiles‘ Clubhouse – thank you, everybody, for your support this season
The Harlequins shipped another penalty more or less straight from the restart. 44 metres out once more, and once more Marcus Kruger stepped up and slotted another 3 points with a kick that looks like it would have happily made its way over from 70 metres. 16 – 5 Exiles. 26 minutes played.
The Harlequins reply was swift. The Exiles had given away a soft penalty in their own half which the Abu Dhabi side elected to send into touch. The line out was gathered, a penalty advantage, and a sublime cross field kick found its way into the grateful arms of an Abu Dhabi Harlequins wing. 16 – 10 to Exiles. Half Time.
Who knew that Exiles’ prop, Pieter Killian, had his own booster club?!
The end of 10 years of Exiles‘ rugby for Gareth Bacon – perhaps
The encounters between Dubai Exiles RFC and Abu Dhabi Harlequins RFC earlier in the UAE Premiership rugby season had been incredible battles. The Exiles had escaped their trip to Zayed Sports City in October with a flattering 17 – 26 win. With 10 minutes to go, that match was in the balance at 17 points a piece.
The return fixture at The Sevens at the end of January was another arm wrestle. The Exiles again escaping with a 30 – 26 win over the visitors from he capital.
As much as it was looking reasonably comfortable to the many gathered Exiles supporters, everybody on pitch knew that this game wasn’t over – not by a long chalk.
Ryan and Christiaan from the Exiles’ Under 6s came along to support the Exiles!
Whatever Harlequins coach Niall Lear said to his charges at half time should be bottled and sold. The Harlequins team had been incredibly physical in the first 40 minutes, but in the second half they seemed to have discovered a whole new level of intensity.
The second half scoring was opened, again, by Marcus Kruger, another long penalty, this time out to the left of the posts. The DESC schoolboy was delivering an incredible display of pressure kicking and answering every question that he was posed to him. 19 – 10 Exiles.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins get up in the air
Exiles’ hooker, Dave Gairn, used to be a baseball catcher
Every big rugby match needs a moment of controversy. In this final it came 8 minutes into the second half. The Exiles had gathered the Harlequins restart and after an initial surge from lock, Shane Wewje, the ball was spread into the open space out on the wide left side.
The Exiles poured into the Harlequins‘ 22 and with all fifteen Harlequins defenders on the left side of the posts the Exiles had a 6 on 1, arguably a 6 on 0 overlap. A despairing one handed slap down from the only Harlequins defender anywhere near the ball and the guaranteed score was snuffed out.
The Exiles players stood with their arms in the air and waited for the inevitable yellow card, and probably expected a penalty try, but neither came. Referee, Jaco de Wit, only called play back for a penalty, much to the disbelief of everybody on the pitch, even some of the Abu Dhabi Harlequins players had befuddled expressions on their faces. Marcus Kruger kicked the penalty. 22 – 10 to the Exiles.
Match Referee Jaco de Wit keeps an eye on something…
Stephen Ferguson hopes the forward pass wasn’t spotted!
The Harlequins took full advantage of the lifeline that had been extended to them. A few minutes later and they’d punched their way over the try lined beneath the Exiles‘ posts. Some dogged defense from the Men-in-Black had almost pepped the visitors out but they eventually ran out of defenders around the rucks. 22 – 17 to Exiles.
With 20 minutes of the UAE Premiership Rugby Final remaining the Exiles were on the attack on the Harlequins‘ 5 metre line. An initial surge from Number 8, Stephen Ferguson was repelled by the Harlequins defense. Next to have a crack at driving over the try line was Justin Walsh, he was stopped just short near the Harlequins‘ posts. A third surge and the Exiles were over the line with arms in the air.
The referee judged that the ball had been knocked on while being grounded and brought play back for a penalty, again kicked by Marcus Kruger. 25 – 17 to Exiles.
Conor Kennedy scored the Exiles‘ only try
Abu Dhabi Harlequins were the next to score. A scrum on Exiles‘ 5 metre line with 26 minutes of the second half played which the Exiles‘ struggled to cope with and the referee jogged to the posts and awarded a penalty try and 7 points to the Abu Dhabi Harlequins. Exiles‘ prop, Lukas Waddington, was given a 10 minute rest period for his efforts. 25 – 24 to Exiles. 15 minutes left on the clock.
The Abu Dhabi Harlequins certainly had their tails up. A 14 man and tired looking Exiles‘ defense was struggling to keep up with an invigorated Harlequins attack. With just 10 minutes left in the game, the Harlequins slipped a pass into space and got behind the Exiles‘ defense. An expertly off-loaded ball, a one on one, and Abu Dhabi were under the posts. 25 – 31 to Harlequins.
Just 5 minutes later the Harlequins added another 3 points to their half of the scoreboard. Another scrum penalty had been awarded and it as 25 – 34 to Harlequins. 4 Minutes left to play.
On the charge
Matt Mills flying high
Shane Weweje carried hard all game
It was all or nothing time for the Exiles. Lukas Waddington had rejoined play. A penalty and the Exiles were on the attack just outside the Harlequins‘ 22. For a moment it looked like Stephen Ferguson might have added 5 points to th Exiles‘ tally, but the pass from Lukas Waddington was forward and the score remained at 24 – 34.
A penalty to the Exiles. A quick conversation between Exiles‘ captain, Pieter Killian, and referee Jaco de Wit, and there was time to kick the penalty and play out the final 30 seconds. Marcus Kruger added the 3 points. 28 – 34 to Harlequins.
The Exiles poured everything into ne last gasp attack, but after multiple phases they eventually turned over possession at a ruck and the season was over. 28 – 34 to Abu Dhabi Harlequins. Final Score.
Dave Gairn, Gareth Bacon and Lukas Waddington
The Match Officials, Tony Duminy, Jaco de Wit, Simon Dodd and Herman Frankfurth
Both the UAE Division 1 Final and the UAE Premiership Final had proven to be massively entertaining games of rugby for anybody who’d come out to The Sevens for Finals day. Congratulations to Al Ain Amblers for winning their absolute belter of a match with Dubai Hurricanes 2 in the Division 1 Final and a huge congratulations to Abu Dhabi Harlequins on winning the UAE Premiership Final. It goes without saying, all four teams provided a spectacular advert for UAE amateur rugby.
Back Row – Left to right: Jonathan Ebbitt, Shane Weweje, Stephen Ferguson, Thusitha Dushan, Ben Hatcher, Justin Walsh, Lukas Waddington, Andrew Pybus, Pieter Killian, Matt Mills, Gareth Bacon, Alfie Wilson, Anthony Kapp, Willem Jansen, Dave Gairn
Front Row – Left to right: Jacques Benade, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Stenhouse, Brad Owako, Tarek Mursal, Sajeewa Chathuranga, Carel Thomas, Hannes Kruger, Conor Kennedy
A massive thank you to all of the players and club staff who delivered a fantastic season for Dubai Exiles RFC. Dubai is a very transient place, our thanks and best wishes are extended to all of the players who started the season with us but ‘life’ has moved you on to different parts of the world or were simply unavailable for the Premiership Final:
Schalk du Preez
|Thusitha Samarathilaka Dushan||Centre||0||0||0||0|
DUBAI EXILES v ABU DHABI HARLEQUINS
UAE Premiership Final (19th March 2022)