Bahrain completed a hat-trick of West Asia Premiership titles after overcoming a dogged Dubai Tigers in a nervy final at the Bahrain Rugby Football Club (BRFC).
Playing in front of the famed ‘Red Wall’, the home side held on for a 23-17 victory despite a late fightback from the Tigers which threatened to break local hearts.
The game showcased the very best of rugby in the region, BRFC chairman, Mike Cunningham, told the GDN.
“The game was a rollercoaster,” he said. “We had faith in the boys and knew we could win this game, but Tigers pushed hard and all it would have taken is one sniff of a chance and they could have nicked it at the end.
“It means so much to the club as a whole, for the supporters who came to watch and most of all the youngsters who were grabbing their favourite players and giving the players hugs, having their shirts signed and taking pictures.
“It’s truly an amazing day for the club. I’m breathless and my voice has gone from cheering. Unbelievable!”
Bahrain came out of the blocks in lightning fashion and were 7-0 up within two minutes after Lindsey Gibson thundered over the line off a rolling maul. Jamie King added the extras from the tee before also knocking over a penalty after good work from Aidan Ascott turning over the ball.
The Tigers bit back midway through the first half, powering over off a driving maul, before both teams exchanged penalties.
Bahrain’s Polynesia Crichton widened the gap by crossing under the posts, but a missed penalty from King with the last kick of the first period meant that at 20-10, the game was still in the balance.
Sure enough, Tigers emerged reenergised at the break and the game became scrappier with heavy tackles and some misplaced passes becoming more common.
With an hour gone, the gap was reduced to just three points after the powerful visitors bundled the ball over the line.
Luckily, King’s boot added another penalty and, roared on by the vociferous home support, the Bahrain defence really stepped up, winning turnovers at crucial times as the Tigers pushed relentlessly for a way back.
With seconds ticking away, King missed a penalty which would have put the hosts out of sight but it wasn’t to matter as the ball was booted out of play and Bahrain were greeted to an eruption of noise from their faithful fans.
After sportingly congratulating their beaten opponents and sharing some delighted hugs, the Bahrain team collected their medals amongst a shower of confetti fired from cannons as captain Jordan Viggers lifted the trophy.
“I’m immensely proud of the team this year,” he told the GDN afterwards. “We’ve built an amazing squad, a tight knit group that feels like a family and we’ve progressed so much.
“The Tigers are a well-coached, physical team so we knew we had to start with high intensity, and we did that. It’s the fourth time we’ve played them this year but we lost to them in our last game of the regular season so it was always going to be a huge test.
“The energy around the entire club has been huge for this final; we just love playing here at home. When there’s 10 minutes to go and we’re out on our feet, the crowd just gives us the lift that we need.”
Bahrain’s Adam Wallace has tasted success in a West Asia Premiership final as a player before, but this was the first time he did so as the team’s coach as well.
Understandably delighted after the final whistle, he told GDN: “It’s so rewarding to win it now as a coach as well as a player, especially after the finals in the last couple of years were called off because of Covid. I’m really proud of the team and all they have achieved.
“It was a little bit closer than we wanted it to be. We started off strong but fair play to the Tigers, they came back at us and we knew that it would be a game which would go right to the wire. That’s what you want from a final, to give the amazing crowd a match befitting the occasion, and we certainly did that.”