The mettle of quintuple champions Abu Dhabi Harlequins is certainly being tested in the early stages of the season as they head to Bahrain Friday.
Mike McFarlane’s side got their West Asia Premiership title defence off to a thrilling start last week as they earned a last-gasp 34-33 victory at Jebel Ali Dragons on opening night – Luke Stevenson’s touchline conversion beyond the 80th minute sealing an epic triumph.
And the champions are certainly not being allowed to parade easily into the early part of the 2017/18 campaign, with a second tough fixture in a week with a trip west to take on Louie Tonkin’s men in red.
But McFarlane says his side are relishing another big game, and he is expecting a huge battle.
“We have a squad travelling to do a job and will go toe to toe with them in search of another win on the road,” said the Quins coach.
“The players relish being tested and the capacity both physically and mentally is incredible. I’m sure the game will bring leaders to the fore in what will be a battle.”
Quins retained one of the five trophies they hoisted last term without even playing last week when Bahrain did them a favour and beat Kandy 24-23 in Sri Lanka – a result which ensured Quins held onto their Western Clubs Champions League title.
And McFarlane had plenty of praise for Tonkin and his charges – who pushed Quins close in almost all their encounters last season, while a 36-32 win was required to open their Champions League defence at the start of the month.
“We go to Bahrain in a game last year which on reflection was probably our toughest,” added McFarlane.
“They’ve got an excellent coach and always prep well. It’s big game after big game at the moment. It’s a hard way to start the Premiership but to get a win away under our belts against such a strong Dragons team is excellent.”
Defeats of 17-15 and 31-25 were evidence of the thin gap that exists between the two sides last year – the only anomaly a 45-17 thrashing in the closing stages of the Premiership campaign as Tonkin rested players heading into the West Asia Cup final.
He hasn’t had much luck against McFarlane but Tonkin admits he relishes competing against him and Quins.
“We really enjoy playing them,” said the Welshman.
“They’re always good contests and they’re good guys, coached incredibly well and it’s good for us to measure ourselves against the best in the league early on.
“We know how good a side they are and they’ll come here deservedly as favourites, but we’ll just try and get our own performance right.
“Everyone’s excited about the first league game. We’ve had a good Champions League campaign and three games altogether so we’re happy about that. We’re hoping to improve on those performances.
“If we make as many errors against them as we did three weeks ago, they’ll beat us, so we have to be much better. We need to do the basics well.”
Bahrain skipper Adam Wallace misses the game and could be out for two months after injuring himself against Kandy.
“We’ve picked up some significant injuries, captain Adam Wallace has damaged his MCL so could be out for eight weeks,” added Tonkin.
“It’s a huge loss for us and him but gives him a chance to focus on his coaching. But we also have a better squad to cater for the injuries.”
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