Jebel Ali Dragons suffered a second successive three-point defeat which sets up a potentially critical clash in terms of the West Asia Premiership picture with Dubai Exiles next week.
Two games ago things looked bleak for defending West Asia and UAE champions Exiles. Back-to-back wins though, coupled with a 22-19 loss to Bahrain two weeks ago and a 25-22 defeat at the hands of Doha last night, leaves Henry Paul’s men playing catch up, although they do have two games in hand.
Crucial for Paul’s players to take out of this titanic tussle was two bonus points, one for outscoring the visitors on the try count, the other for finishing within seven points, thanks to former Al Ain Amblers man Sakiusa Naisau’s late score.
It was an energy-sapping encounter that neither team deserved to lose. The hosts went behind to an early Doha score but roared back and dominated the opening 40 minutes, replying with three tries in a thrilling display of attacking, running rugby.
When the inevitable Doha resurgence came after the break though, Dragons just couldn’t hang on, the result leaving them four points adrift of Exiles, with the two teams clashing at The Sevens next week.
“We were ecstatic going into half time and the boys were up for it,” said all-action Dragons flanker Matt Henry.
“The last try was how we want to be playing, but we came into the second half and I think we tried pushing things too much, getting a bit over confident.
“We’re just not putting the finishing touches on things. We’ve worked really hard on our pattern the last few weeks but we’re just not putting those final passes together. We’re doing the right things, it’s just not coming together how we want.”
“It was a live by the sword die by the sword match for us today, we let ourselves get a bit ragged and got picked off,” added UAE flanker Niall Statham, playing his first match of the season after tearing ankle ligaments on international duty in May.
Doha scrum-half Luke Ward said his side showed character after a disappointing first half performance.
He said: “The boys stepped up. We were slow the first 15-20 minutes but we grew into it and the character’s there which is fantastic. We got we need going into the business end of the season.”
It was Ward’s ingenuity that sparked a brilliant spectacle into life after seven minutes. He chipped behind the Dragons defence with Ryno Fourie and Imad Reyal caught out of position and livewire winger Pita Tuilagi won the race to touch down.
Dragons roared right back and even though they were initially denied as Jonathan Hamilton had a try ruled out for double movement when he dived prematurely before the line, the Number 8 wasn’t to be denied, dragging three men with him to the line in the 29th minute.
Three minutes later they were ahead following winger Sammy Ewing’s electric break. The ball was recycled and spun across the pitch, where Reyal put centre Scott Hayes in at the corner.
Brook Tremayne levelled the scores with a penalty but the hosts regained the lead on the stroke of half time with a quite brilliant try.
New Zealander Henry gathered a clearance kick on halfway before sending Nasau searing through the Doha defence. It was spun wide yet again and South African winger Fourie found a gap to charge over.
The visitors were much better after the interval and, having been knocking on the door for 20 minutes, took back the lead on the hour with the try of the game from Tuilagi.
Nothing looked on when he went on a mazy run off his left wing, but he somehow evaded two Dragons tacklers as he scorched in under the posts from the right, with Tremayne’s conversion seeing Doha lead 20-17.
Fellow Fijian Iliesa Rakabu then sped in on the overlap to give Doha a crucial two-score lead, and even though Nasau rescued a second bonus point for Dragons in the final minute, victory evaded them.
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