There were 54 points between the teams the last time they met in December but Bahrain coach Louie Tonkin is under no illusion Jebel Ali Dragons present a stern test for his side in Friday’s West Asia Cup semi-final.
Tonkin’s side brushed Dragons aside 68-14 in Saar on December 14 – part of a mammoth haul of 577 points scored in 15 games on their way to topping the West Asia Premiership standings in a dominant campaign.
The west Asia side finished the regular season 13 points clear of second-placed Abu Dhabi Harlequins, having lost just once in those 15 games. The defending champions, meanwhile, have struggled, losing eight times and winning only seven games. They scraped into the end of season semi-finals via a huge 72-24 win over rock bottom Dubai Eagles at the end of February and were left sweating on back-to-back defeats for Dubai Hurricanes.
Canes went down narrowly to Quins – losing only 35-34 on February 15 – while suffering a close 24-10 defeat in Bahrain a week later. It meant Dragons finished six points ahead to clamber into the semi-finals.
But Tonkin is anticipating a tight and tense battle this weekend. “It’s a semi and we won the right to host a home semi but our focus is on 80 minutes on Friday,” said the Welshman, whose side are looking to add the league triumph to the overall West Asia Cup crown and retain last year’s title – their maiden trophy in eight years.
“We know Dragons have some great players and great leadership in Ross Samson and Jonny MacDonald so we know it’s going to be a completely different fixture than we had against Dragons in December when we won convincingly.
“We’re ready for a tight contest and we’re looking forward to a big day at Bahrain Rugby Club.”
Despite already topping the standings in the regular season, Tonkin knows the overall Cup victory is the trophy all the sides are after.
He added: “We’re really looking forward to the fixture. We’ve been working towards this all year. With the new format of the league, although we finished top of the league in the regular season, we’re very aware this is the main trophy.
“We managed the squad a little last week against Canes to ensure we had as close to a fully fit squad as possible this weekend and we’re looking forward to hosting Dragons on Friday.
“We’ve had a few injuries the last six weeks coming back to health at the right time, which is great. They’re not quite ready to break into the starting XV just yet but they are available for selection and it strengthens our case.”
In Friday’s other semi-final, league runners-up Quins host Dubai Exiles.
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