Exiles‘ stalwart, Jaen Botes, has been busy with UAE International duties
With four Premiership league matches down and four left to go Dubai Exiles RFC are sitting at the top of the UAE Premiership rugby league table with four wins out of four matches and a place in the UAE Premiership play off semi-finals almost secured.
‘Normal’ rugby retuned for the 2021-22 season, 15-a-side rugby was back in the UAE after the Covid season’s hastily arranged 10-a-side format which facilitated some rugby to be played during 2020-21. The usual suspects were ready to go. Dubai Hurricanes, Jebel Ali Dragons, Dubai Tigers, Abu Dhabi Harlequins and of course Dubai Exiles RFC.
The Exiles‘ first outing onto their home pitch, Pitch 7 at The Sevens, saw visitors Dubai Tigers make the journey up the E66. The Dubai Tigers had been busy in the off-season with new signings. The recent demise of Dubai Knights-Eagles, affectionately known as the Kn’Eagles, had seen the Tigers pounce on some new players for their 2021-22 season roster.
The most significant signings for the Dubai College based team were new outside half, Clint Eadie, the Australian having recently arrived in Dubai from French Division 2 professional club, Narbonne. UAE International centre, and now ‘ex’ Hurricanes centre, Fijian Sakiusa Naisau, had jumped ship after several significant seasons at the Hurricanes.
Schalk Du Preez on his way to score against the Tigers
Justin Walsh scores one of 15 tries against Dubai Tigers
As it turned out, the first venture into the 2021-22 season turned out pretty well for the Dubai Exiles. The Tigers‘ new signings failed to make any impact and the Exiles left Pitch 7 for the Exiles‘ Clubhouse after running in 15 tries and handing out a 91 – 0 thrashing to the visiting Dubai Tigers.
On the same opening day the Jebel Ali Dragons had journeyed down the E311 to Abu Dhabi to take on the Harlequins. Traditionally a very strong team, especially to take on in Zayed Sports City but a complete unknown for the 2021-22 season. The result was 42 – 32 to Abu Dhabi Harlequins in what must have been an extremely entertaining game for the rugby enthusiast.
Schalk Du Preez opens the scoring against Abu Dhabi Harlequins
The second weekend of Premiership UAE rugby, it was the Dubai Exiles‘ turn to visit Zayed Sports City. Abu Dhabi has not always been a happy hunting ground for the Exiles and with some significant players away on international duty for the UAE there was no doubt it was going to be a tough encounter with the Harlequins.
It was a bruising encounter. The team in black from Dubai had allowed themselves to get dragged into a physical, toe to toe, confrontation and were repeatedly guilty of turning down the space that was available in wider areas. Despite reaching the half-time break up by 3 – 15, anybody watching this game knew that it was far from over,
Dave Gairn isn’t shy about contact
Alex Fowler gets things moving
The first half warning signs had been loud and clear. A physical Abu Dhabi Harlequins pack and some accurate kicking from the Abu Dhabi fullback, had drawn the teams level at 17 all with just 10 minutes to go. All of the momentum had swung in favour of the Harlequins and the Exiles were just about managing to hang on.
With 8 minutes left on the clock and against the run of play, the Exiles managed to score in the corner and take a significant step to coming away from Zayed Sports City with their second win of the campaign. When a late penalty moved the Exiles two scores clear the job was done. A tough win away in Abu Dhabi 17 – 26.
Abu Dhabi Harlequins v Dubai Exiles was the only Premiership game of the weekend. The match between Dubai Hurricanes and Jebel Ali Dragons having been postponed earlier in the week. Exiles were top of the table with 2 from 2 and now had a two week break until their next match with Jebel Ali Dragons.
With the Exiles enjoying their weekend off, the Dubai Hurricanes had their first game of the season at The Sevens with Abu Dhabi Harlequins the visitors. Abu Dhabi winning that very entertaining shoot out by 33 – 53. In the other match Jebel Ali Dragons squeezed past a significantly improved Dubai Tigers team by 23 – 21, the Dubai Tigers evidently benefitting from some more imports.
Jebel Ali Dragons await another conversion
Jaen Botes on the hoof
After a two week lay off, the Dubai Exiles next match was away in Jebel Ali against the Dragons. There is a healthy, and sometimes, unhealthy rivalry between the two sides, but it always makes for a nervy Premiership clash. The two teams had played a pre-season warm up game some weeks earlier, the Exiles coming away with that result by 29 points to 10.
Jordan Ainslie congratulated by Conor Kennedy
Michael Stubbs can spot a gap
The Premiership match was a much more one-sided affair. The Dubai Exiles running in 9 tries during their visit to Jebel Ali. The home side did get a consolation score on the board but a significant marker had been put down in the UAE Premiership with the 8 – 55 Exiles win. Played 3, won 3.
The big shock that same weekend was the Dubai Hurricanes losing to Dubai Tigers by 33 points to 12. The game was played at Dubai Sports City with the Dubai Tigers hosting. What shape the Hurricanes were in this season had been difficult to judge until this point. Their only match until the Tigers game was their loss to a very strong Abu Dhabi Harlequins outfit. The defeat to the Tigers meant that the Hurricanes were played 2 and lost 2 with the Dubai Exiles up next.
Justin Walsh bulldozes his way through the Dubai Hurricanes defence
Jaron Shelley stripped the Hurricanes‘ defence
Anthony Kapp has scored 6 tries in 4 games
A derby match at The Sevens between the Dubai Exiles and Dubai Hurricanes rugby clubs has become a pretty big deal in recent seasons. A good crowd always turns up to see who’ll emerge with the begging rights between the two clubs based at the home of the Emirates Dubai Sevens.
The Exiles saved their worst performance of the season for this match. It all looked like pretty plain sailing for the men-in-black to begin with. 14 points on the board and not even 10 minutes on the clock. But a first half littered with knock ons and errant passes meant that the half time scoreboard read 21 – 12 to the Exiles. It could have and should have been a lot more.
Matt Mills plucks the ball from the air
Half-Time hairdryer treatment from Exiles‘ coach and Director of Rugby, Jacques Benade, seemed to do the trick. A significant second half improvement effectively put the sword through a hapless Hurricanes‘ defence leaving the Exiles to enjoy a 59 – 17 win over their nearest neighbours,
Away in Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi Harlequins overcame the ever improving Dubai Tigers by 26 – 20. The Tigers are next up for Dubai Exiles RFC and will be a significantly different proposition to the team that the Exiles annihilated by 91 points to nil in their opening game of the Premiership season.
The Dubai Exiles Under 12s look pretty happy about the Hurricanes result
The final match of the first half of the season was the postponed match up between the Jebel Ali Dragons and Dubai Hurricanes. With the Hurricanes seemingly about to post their first win of the season, the Dragons managed to grab the significant try in the dying seconds of the game and the match was won for the Jebel Ali side with the conversion, final kick of the game. 22 – 21 to the Jebel Ali Dragons.
At the half-way mark the UAE Premiership has a familiar and also not so familiar look about. Dubai Exiles RFC are top with 4 wins from 4 and a significant points difference advantage. Abu Dhabi Harlequins are second with 3 from 4 and pushing extremely hard. Jebel Ali Dragons are 2 from 4, The Dubai Tigers are 1 from 4 their only win coming from their defeat of the Hurricanes. The Dubai Hurricanes are 0 from 4, four losses in four matches – nobody would have predicted that at the beginning of the season…