Dubai Tigers 25-20 Sharjah Wanderers (AET)
In a meeting of one of the UAE’s newest clubs and one with 40 years of history, it was the Dubai Tigers in just their fifth year in existence who claimed their first major XVs honours after a thrilling extra time win. Having held on to a slender 20-17 advantage for much of the second period in the face of a feocious Sharjah onslaught, the game was sent to extra time by a late Ryan Flaherty penalty. With the game to be settled by a first score wins ‘golden point’ rule, Flaherty then had the first chance to settle the outcome in extra time but on this occasion his attempt drifted wide.
The end when it did come was somewhat out of the blue, an innocuous looking punt downfield was allowed to bounce by the covering Sharjah Wanderers players, pivoting wickedly in to the arms of an onrushing Joe Barratt. In the melee that ensued, Pete Kelly’s outstretched arm was able to ground the ball, sending Tigers players into delirium.
Played out on a day where the mercury topped 33c at Sports City, the game was characterised by a contrast in styles between the Wanderers whose gameplan was built around set piece ascendency and a Tigers side who looked more threatening in broken field play with Liam Caldwell and Brian Odonga combining in the wide channels. Sharjah’s scrum dominance, anchored by David Lee and Garry Hanley, could well have been the decisive factor on another day, with a series of splintering drives early in the second half yielding a succession of penalties, two Tigers yellow cards and a penalty try to level the game at 17-17. It is a testament to the character of a Tigers side who had not tasted defeat since playing away to Sharjah back in November, that they were able to win the ensuing period where they were down to 13 men 3-0 curtesy of a Jack Simmons nudge set up by a 30 yard trundle from Gary Saitola. A series of Sharjah attacks could amount to nothing more than three points, their most fluent move seeing Fabrizio D’Amico held up over the line, with each turnover being cheered as if it were a try by a vocal Tigers supporting contingent.
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There had been little to split the teams throughout the contest, two early scores cancelling each other out, Sharjah going ahead after an opportunistic grubber kick off the back of a scrum again the head catching Tigers unawares and allowing Mike Gormley to slide in. That lead was soon cancelled out by a score from Mark O’Donnell after a trademark powerful charge by loose-head Azmat Niazi whose early departure due to injury looked to have an influence on the one sided nature of the scrum contest. The two sides then traded penalties before a piece of individual brilliance from Shane Gibbons sent Tigers into the lead at half time, the fullback gathering his own chip kick ahead to score. Crucially given what was to follow captain Caldwell’s conversion deflected in after striking the left upright.
Dubai Tigers: Azmat Niazi, Matt Rawlinson, Leon Dashwood, Mark Odnell, Chris Sumner-Smith, Aaron Persico, Jamie Clark, Gary Saitola, Jon Poide, Callam Handford, Kenny Munier, Pete Kelly, Liam Caldwell, Brian Odonga, Shane Gibbons
Substitutes: Barry Lyon, Aaron Temple, Bernard Tsabang, Nenad Grbic, Sam Cross, Henry Frost, Joe Barratt, Jack Simmons
Sharjah Wanderers: David Lee, Darren Bowle, Garry Hanley, Tim Shepherd, Reuben Potaka, Gethyn Bugler, Patrick Barcoe, Isaac Porter, David Ermerins, Barry Enright, Shane Fowley, Nathan Wilson, Mike Gormley, Ryan Flaherty, Fabrizio D’Amico
Substitutes: Ante Bulat, Liam Bruce, Hugh Griesto, Dana van Wyck, Luke Banks, Shane Breen, Eoin Brenan, James Walsh