It is often said that Rugby is a game of fine margins, and no one will better attest to that than those who witnessed the heart-stopping finale of this year’s West Asia Premiership in Bahrain. The home side ran out 23-21 winners, yet for a fleeting moment, it was the Dubai Exiles celebrating victory as Durand Gerber’s last gasp 50m penalty sailed straight and true towards the uprights. A cluster of red shirts under the posts frantically indicated that the kick had fallen just short, and time stood still until, after consultation with his assistants, the UAERF Referee – Tony Duminy confirmed their verdict. Cue pandemonium in the stands and enormous relief for a Bahrain side who had looked to be cruising towards the title just moments earlier.
Leon Mauer’s penalty with just ten minutes on the clock had restored a 10 point cushion for the home team who had led 17-6 at half time and came into this fixture undefeated since falling to Exiles at The Sevens in October. Exiles though, having hung in there for large periods of the encounter played out in-front of a partisan Bahrain crowd began to take control of the tight exchanges as Bahrain seemingly caught the jitters.
First a scrum penalty with just 4 mins on the clock was converted by Gerber to reduce the arrears to one converted score. Then after a series of further infringements at the breakdown helped the visitors gain field position, they worked an opening on the right flank for winger Stubbs to score with what would have been the last play of the game. With tensions boiling over ahead of the prospect of extra time, Bahrain were adjudged to be the guilty party in instigating an off the ball altercation meaning that Exiles would restart with a penalty on half way and a chance to win the game outright with the final kick, even after the touchline conversion drifted wide.
The thrilling climax had looked unlikely for much of the game, Bahrain having taken an early lead through a converted score by centre Jack Phillips. A second Phillips score from a perfectly executed set piece move and the boot of Ross Preedy had at one stage built up a 20-6 advantage before a much improved second half showing from Exiles nearly culminated in the most dramatic of smash and grab raids.
As impressive as Exiles’ comeback was on the day, few can begrudge Bahrain their slice of luck in holding on at the death. They have been the outstanding team in this year’s West Asia Premiership competition by some way and hosted a fitting showpiece occasion for the final – which can be relived in full courtesy of Bahrain’s facebook live video.
Article By: Huw Harrow