Abu Dhabi Saracens knew that the encounter with rivals Dubai Exiles would be last chance saloon time in their hopes of claiming the UAE Premiership trophy. They went into the encounter on a four match winning streak following the conclusion of the West Asian Championship campaign.
The squad saw a number of changes from the one that had been victorious away to Jebel Ali Dragons last time out.Prop Ross Byres would start this time , with Murray Reason reverting to the bench.In the back row saw Paul Hindshaw starting in place of the injured Sipantho Quinisile.
With Rikkus Swart unable to recover from his injury sustained in the Jebel Ali game, joint head coach Stephen Hamilton switched to scrum half as Garth Van Niekerk returned at 12. He would join fellow South African compatriot Sean Stevens in the centres. James Thomas continued at 14 after impressing last day out.
The game itself was slow to start as both teams looked to eye each other up in the hope of a mistake being made. A succession of scrums saw play situate around midfield for the opening few minutes.Sarries did manage to concede an early penalty which Exiles out half Durandt Gerber chose to kick at goal.His effort bounced off the post to give Sarries an early let off. Sarries managed to get some phases together to get themselves of of their own 22 but struggled to get any further than midfield as an organized Exiles defence sought to lesson the danger.
Both teams struggled to hold ball in hand with mistakes being made in key positions. When in position, the Exiles backs looked rather dangerous ,with both winger Bradley Van Niekerk and centre Tom Stapley attacking the gainline at pace. Sarries managed to overturn possession and win the scrum in turn. Play was stopped for a Giovano Fourie injury. On resumption of play, Exiles were first to break the deadlock as the backs played the ball through good phases. Stapley and Berkenshaw joined up well to feed Van Niekerk who scored in the corner. The conversion attempt was missed as Exiles took a one try lead.
Sarries looked to get back into the encounter and centre Sean Stevens pounced on the loose ball from the kickstart. Having got hands on the ball, he chased through would be defenders but as he teed up Hutchings to go in for the try, the referee deemed the pass marginally forward. It was Saracens best chance in the first quarter and they would be punished soon after against the run of play. Exiles flanker Matt Mills made the break for the home side and he managed to pop his pass to Van Niekerk again , who bypassed the onrushing Paddy Mc Keon to score a replica of the first try. Mc Keon had come on moments earlier for the injured Paul Hindshaw. This time Gerber was successful with the kick to make the score 12-0 as we approached the half hour mark.
From the restart, Sarries still struggled to find ways to break down a mammoth Exiles defensive effort. They were being suffocated with ball in hand. Sarries centre Garth Van Niekerk took a heavy hit in midfield but play continued as Sarries managed to gain a penalty just beyond halfway. Hamilton kicked into Exiles 22 as Sarries hoped to use their set piece to get something from the game. They won the lineout and began to make some enterprising breaks only for the Exiles defense to steal the ball in the breakdown. A huge clearance kick form Gerber saw Exiles full back Ryan Rapello make a rapid dash to get hold of the ball. Only some last ditch defending from Saracens backs saw him being put into touch.
It wasn’t long until Exiles scored their third try of the half as Matt Hutchings pass in Exiles 22 was spotted by Gerber and he managed to intercept the pass and dash 60 metres before passing to his half back compatriot Ed Armitage to score under the posts.Gerber kicked the conversion to make the score 19-0 as we entered the latter stages of the first half.
Sarries put on pressure again from the kickstart as Exiles lock Rhinus De Bothma was deemed to go off his feet in the breakdown. Hamilton managed to kick the penalty deep into the home sides 22. From the lineout , the ball was caught by Lehan Koekemoer who instructed his troops to drive , going over in the process. The referee blew for an infringement and brought play back. Sarries conjured up the same move again and the referee decided to award the penalty try. Hamilton scored with the conversion to make the score 19-7. The referee blew the half time whistle which gave both sides gaining necessary respite in preparation for the second half.
At the the start of the second period, Exiles went straight on the attack. The managed to gain a lineout on Sarries 22. They imitated Sarries first half move on the same side of the pitch and were rewarded with the try to make the score 24-7 to the home side. Following the try, Jaen Botes was given a yellow for an infringement.Sarries surprisingly seemed to get into their grove following Botes sin binning. They began using the rolling maul to full effect in Exiles half and gained yardage as far as Exiles 5 metre line. Sarries were unfortunate to see the ball held up on the tryline. Sarries were awarded the scrum and it wasn’t long before they scored a comeback try. Adam Nightingale fooled the Exiles defense by taking the ball at the back of the scrum to bulldoze over. A simple conversion from Hamilton made the score 24-14 and gave Saracens a lifeline .
Saracens lifeline was not to last as long as Exiles winger Van Niekerk again would cause the Saracens a lot of problems with his mazy running. Sarries lack of urgency in taking him down in the tackle meant that Exiles gained further ground into Sarries half.They did manage to overturn the ball. Some phases were strung together that led to Sarries gaining the penalty and obtaining a lineout from a good position. From the lineout won, Sarries would bash away at the Exiles tryline but again could not hold their composure and knocked on with the tryline at their mercy.
With Exiles feeding the lineout on their 5 metre, Armitage made a hash of his clearance kick but they did manage to clear with the help of Gerber. He punted the ball halfway to clear the danger. Mohammed Hassan came on for Nightingale as Sarries looked to bring more pace into the engine room. It wasn’t long until Exiles gained their 5th try after against the run of play, Tom Stapley intercepted another Hutchings miscued pass to charge from his own half unopposed to the try line.Gerber’s conversion made the score 31-14.
Jaen Botes made his return to the pitch but it wasn’t long before Exiles got their 6th try of the match. A poor clearance kick from Jonathan Taylor was captured by Exiles livewire full back Ryan Raphallo. He bypassed a number of tacklers before teeing up the onrushing Gerber who galloped over the tryline. Gerber converted the effort himself to make the score 38-14. Substitutions were made following the try as Murray Reason came on for Craig Nutt and Marcel Botha for James Thomas on the wing.
Jaen Botes was given his marching orders soon after for a second yellow card for a high tackle. He would sit out the rest of the game. Saracens again fought back with 14 men as they implemented a 12 man lineout in order to get another try on the board. They were unsuccessful however. Exiles fought their way up field and managed to cross the tryline for the side’s 7th try through Exiles forward Ed James. Confusion rose from the rolling maul. A melee of sorts broke out and Exiles second row Rhinus De Bothma was given a red card for a stamping offence. Steyn was taken off for Tuivione as the game reached its closing stages.
Sarries managed to show courage through the work of winger Mike Pugliese. He managed to lay a good grubber kick and tackled the ball carrier as Sarries attempted to pound the tryline in the hope for a consolation try.
Exiles managed to put the final nail in the coffin when Exiles winger Dil Shan raced through Sarries defence on the right to score in the corner. Gerber was unsuccessful with the conversion to make the score 48-14 to the home side.