Bahrain Rugby Football Club’s first XV and regional heavyweights, Abu Dhabi Harlequins shared 68 points in a high-scoring opening round of Rugby Asia Champions League but it was the reigning champions who ultimately picked up where they left off last season with a 36-32 win in the UAE capital.
Bahrain head coach Louie Tonkin lamented his side’s performance in the middle 40 minutes of the game, in which they conceded 31 unanswered points to ruin what had been a promising start.
After a positive pre-season campaign, Tonkin and his charges entered their maiden Champions League assignment with a quiet confidence of achieving an overdue win over Quins and they started strongly, with tries from skipper Adam Wallace and flying winger Greg Heath and five points from the boot of Luke Radley, giving the visitors a 15-0 lead.
The first-quarter water break seemed to stall Bahrain’s momentum completely and when the match restarted, it was the home side in the ascendency.
Two converted tries – including a penalty try from scrum pressure – and a penalty goal from Luke Stevenson put the home side into a 17-15 half-time break and the second period began in much the same vein as Quins struck for another two tries to essentially put the result to bed.
With a raft of changes on both sides, the game opened up even further in the final quarter, with substitute Iwan Phillips – one of five Bahrain debutants on the day – pulling a score back for the visitors.
Quins responded with try of their own from Andrew Semple before Wallace and returning back-row Elliot Behan crossed late on to put some respectability on the scoreline.
A win for the Abu Dhabi outfit in Kandy this weekend will see them retain the Champions League crown, before Bahrain make the same journey the following week.