Jebel Ali Dragons won a ferocious encounter with Dubai Exiles to signify that silverware in Gulf rugby this season looks likely to be a thrilling four-way battle.
Both sides battled fiercely at The Sevens but it was Henry Paul’s side who came out on top in a pulsating derby game that swayed this way and that.
The hosts could have snatched victory at the death when a brilliant sniping run by livewire scrum-half Carel Thomas saw him dive for the line and initially awarded a try – but the referee’s decision was overruled by the touch judge who spotted Thomas had knocked on after a last-ditch tackle.
Defeat halted a roaring start to the season from Exiles, although this was the first true test of their title aspirations.
For Dragons, meanwhile, it was ecstasy at the final whistle having suffered heartbreak in their opening game against Abu Dhabi Harlequins three weeks ago when a late conversion robbed them of glory in a 34-33 defeat.
The big hits were numerous from the off as two physical sides went to war, Exiles fly-half Durandt Gerber opened the scoring when he cleverly spotted an opportunity and drop kicked his side in front via a post.
Nicholas McCashin missed a chance to draw Dragons level but they went ahead soon after when hooker Epeli Davetawalu crashed over in the corner following a flowing move, Sakiusa Naisau brilliantly converting from the touchline.
Exiles had full-back Thinus Steyn sin-binned in the aftermath for a high tackle on Niko Volavola and the visitors put their foot on Exiles’ throats when centre Naisau then went over after a great Scott Hayes offload six minutes later.
Gerber kicked a penalty to keep Exiles in it and they brought the Dragons lead to just a point when Jaen Botes rumbled over from a lineout after Dragons had seen Luke Blane yellow carded for not wrapping his arms around a tackler.
Gerber’s conversion was wide as Dragons held a slender 12-11 lead at the break.
Despite playing with 14, it was Paul’s side who seized the initiaitive after the break – Nasau dashing over for his second after cutting an excellent angle off another fine Hayes pass, James Love converting from right in front.
Both sides enjoyed bouts of possession but an increasingly slippery ball continued to play havoc as the heavy hits kept coming.
Tom Gregory went over for a pushover score and Gerber’s conversion once again brought Exiles back to within one point at 19-18, before Love’s penalty extended the lead to four.
Then came the moment Dragons thought victory had been snatched away again, but the try was reversed and they held on stoutly for a fine victory.
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