Abu Dhabi Harlequins captain Billy Graham inspired the Gulf Top Six leaders to a second-half fight-back against Doha to seal a 29-22 win that maintained their 100 per cent 2013.
Quins found themselves 17-3 down early in the second half at Zayed Sport City as former player Jamie Clarke opened the scoring before Tom Featherstone and Mark O’Donnell crossed the whitewash.
The hosts found a route back into the game when skipper Graham breezed through the Doha defence before he helped set up Phil Brady to score.
Matt Hutchens’ conversion brought the sides level and Quins began to pull away with Imad Reyal scoring a scintillating brace on tries, before Neil Thomas added a late consolation for Doha.
“Without a doubt Billy is a good leader and he brought some zip to the game. I thought he was outstanding as a leader and in his normal role in terms of the breakdown, trying to get turnovers, and distribution and link-play,” Quins director of rugby Chris Davies said.
The captain himself was a little more modest following the match. Graham said: “I think a few of the guys decided that first half wasn’t as good as it could have been so we changed our gameplan slightly; and it paid off.”
Quins were left cursing a familiar face early on as the returning UAE back-row Clarke burrowed over in the right corner. Some smart kicking from half-backs Matt Bressons and Paul Beard was at the heart of the visitors’ play, and after Hutchens had cut the deficit with a penalty they stretched their lead after some more powerful play from their forwards.
Jeremy Manning made his return from injury as a half-time replacement but was still finding his feet in the game when a Bressons break helped set up O’Donnell to score under the posts.
Quins were 14 points behind and on the ropes but a silky shimmy from Graham and a strong run to the line cut the deficit before the captain and Dan Hill combined to send Brady over.
The game was now tied at 17-17 but the momentum was definitely with the hosts and they went in front as Manning showed his class to make a break before playing Reyal into space. The Sri Lanka-born full-back then produced a scintillating break of his own, dancing past a handful of defenders and score the try of the game – and arguably the season.
Quins prop Chris Jones-Griffiths needed medical attention following a clash of heads. When the game resumed Thomas brought his side within seven points, but there was no time for the match’s pendulum to swing again.
Jebel Ali Dragons 53-5 Bahrain
Abu Dhabi Harlequins 29-22 Doha
Dubai Hurricanes 49-5 Dubai Exiles