The West Asia Premiership, rugby’s leading competition in the Gulf, returns to the kingdom today after more than two years with reigning champions Bahrain taking on the Jebel Ali Dragons at the Bahrain Rugby Football Club (BRFC) this afternoon.
The Premiership was last staged in the 2019-20 season, with Bahrain winning the title for the second year in a row, before being put on hold because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“The West Asia Premiership is the pinnacle of rugby in the Gulf,” BRFC chairman, Mike Cunningham told the GDN. “We’re massively excited about playing rugby again and bringing the game back to Bahrain.”
Five teams are taking part in this year’s Premiership: Abu Dhabi Harlequins, Dubai Tigers, Dubai Exiles, Jebel Ali Dragons and Bahrain.
The kingdom’s team began the 2022-23 season in fine style, defeating the Exiles, 28-26, at the Sevens stadium in Dubai at the end of September before notching up their second successive win last week when they hammered the Harlequins, 39-15, at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.
Bahrain currently sit in second place on the table with nine points, just behind the Tigers, who have 10 after having also won their first two games. The disparity in points is because the Tigers won two bonus points to Bahrain’s single one.
The Dragons, who endured a dreadful start to their season, losing 17-57 to the Tigers at the start of October and 20-22 to the Harlequins a week later, finally managed to win their first game last week when they beat the Exiles, 29-27, on their home ground at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence. Fortunately for the team, they racked up three bonus points from their three games, which means they occupy third place on the table with seven points.
“The Dragons are a strong team with very good players and a very good backline,” Bahrain captain, Jordan Viggers told the GDN. “We’re expecting it to be a very tough game.”
Viggers, who took over from outgoing captain, Lindsey Gibson at the start of the season, added that he shared Cunningham’s sentiments about the return of the Premiership to the kingdom.
“It’s great to have rugby return to Bahrain after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus,” he explained. “We’ve already kicked off the Premiership with four away games (two were warm-up matches) in the UAE but nothing beats playing in front of a home crowd.
“It should be a great event for the club and a good spectacle with both teams coming off league wins.”
Cunningham added that the BRFC was looking forward to hosting the Dragons and predicted that the match was going to be a ‘cruncher’.
“Bahrain has recently had such a great run of success in the competition,” he said. “We’re looking forward so much to hosting the game, hosting the Dragons. It’s going to be a real cruncher of a game. It’s going to be a challenge.
“They’ve just beaten the Exiles, won their last game, they’re looking to improve and really get their season underway so it’s going to be a tough game. There’s a real buzz going around in the club and the players. We’re all very, very excited about it.”
The kick-off is scheduled for 3.30pm.