Abu Dhabi Saracens show bottle to upset Doha & clinch title

Matt Jones
by Matt Jones
20th March 2015

article:20th March 2015

Draining effort: Ali Thompson (l) played nearly the entire game.
Draining effort: Ali Thompson (l) played nearly the entire game.

Despair, exhaustion, adrenaline, desire, resilience and finally euphoria – Abu Dhabi Saracens certainly rode the emotional rollercoaster but they are the champions of West Asia. 

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In a game fit for any final, where both sides played their roles superbly, Sarries battled like warriors to claim a thrilling 26-20 win in Doha.

The game had it all – end to end action, a hatful of tries, slick passing, ferocious hits, mistakes, tension.

At the end of a pulsating 80 minutes, the men from the UAE capital had announced their arrival as a true force in Gulf rugby.

Ali Thompson’s team were forced to defend for large periods of time in both halves, as the home side’s lethal backs threatened to run amok. That Sarries came back from going behind on four separate occasions speaks volumes for the manner in which they played this epic encounter.

The visitors started like a team at ease in their surroundings before suddenly falling behind to a try that demonstrated Doha’s impressive array of talent from one to 15.

No8 Dilanka Wijesekera brushed aside a weak tackle and burst into space. When the cover came, the back-rower somehow flicked a sumptuous one-handed offload to the supporting Wade Lotter and the hooker bullocked his way over from 20 yards.

Sarries responded immediately.

The rolling maul did its job from a lineout and Doha simply couldn’t deal with it, pit bull Gio Fourie the benefactor, with Elliott Reeder converting to edge Sarries ahead 7-5.

Doha’s Greg Evans kicked his side back in front just before the break with a penalty, but it was the missed kicks that really cost the hosts dearly, with 10 points going begging.

They even changed kickers midway through the half but Stefano Hunt was also off target with a penalty as Sarries stuck in there.

They retook the lead on the stroke of half-time, Fourie responding with a carbon copy of the first try.

Reeder arrowed a kick into the corner and Alex Gonzalez’s catch and drive was finished off by the South African, who dived over a pile of bodies to touch down.

Sam Spencer put Doha back in the lead minutes into the second half as the hosts played Sarries at their own power game, the prop bulldozing over from a lineout to put his side 13-12 ahead.

Again, Sarries refused to lie down and were back in front minutes later. The two teams seemed to swap roles as Reeder cut through midfield and opened his legs towards the posts. He was caught but had Stephen Hamilton in support and the centre had a simple finish under the posts

The next 15 minutes were all Doha and when Evans, so feeble with the boot, cut a flawless line to dive over under the posts, Doha led 20-19. 

But a knock-on gave Sarries a reprieve. They worked their way into Doha territory but everyone on the ground thought the GT6 champions had done enough when Aaron Palmer’s men forced a turnover.

However, an incredible forward push from the resulting scrum forced Doha over their line and gave Sarries their own scrum five metres out. Replacement scrum-half Rhuwane Pienaar caught the home forwards cold to dart over and silence the partisan home crowd. 

Reeder nailed a nerveless conversion to put Sarries 26-20 ahead.

There was still work to do and Doha threw everything at Sarries.

But finally, after what seemed an eternity, the final whistle sent triumphant Sarries into delirium.