Defending champions Bahrain got their title defence off to a perfect start last night by defeating the visiting Doha Rugby Football Centre (Doha RFC), 32-23, in their first game of the 2023-24 West Asia Premiership season at the Bahrain Rugby Football Club (BRFC).
Bahrain are seeking their fourth title win in a row after completing a hat-trick of championship triumphs last season and warmed up for this game in fine style last week by thrashing Doha 40-0 in a pre-season friendly at the same venue.
But, as the hosts headed into the season-opener, both BRFC chairman Mike Cunningham and Bahrain captain Alastair Crombie had predicted to the GDN that the Doha team would shrug off their one-sided defeat in the friendly game and come out all guns blazing in the first official Premiership game of the season.
And so it transpired as the encounter unfolded in the early evening with Doha determinedly keeping the hosts in check with the scoreboard showing Bahrain leading by just three points, at 13-10, after almost 27 minutes of play in the first half.
Bahrain fly half Mason Porteous was then awarded a place kick which he sent soaring through the uprights to make it 16-10 followed by winger Stewart Heunis’ try that meant Bahrain were now leading by 11 points, at 21-10.
Soon, thereafter, Porteous stepped up to take another place kick and the packed BRFC grandstand roared as he sent it sailing through the uprights again, with Bahrain now leading 24-10.
“That’s a humongous kick!” the MC shouted into his microphone, eliciting another enthusiastic round of applause from the home crowd.
Just before the half-time break, Doha managed to score off a place kick and the two teams trooped off with the hosts leading 24-13.
When play resumed, the visitors continued to give Bahrain a tough time as they reacquainted themselves with possession, drawing three points closer through a place kick, with the scoreboard reading 24-16 eight minutes into the second half.
About 10 minutes later, after another Porteous place kick had pushed Bahrain’s lead back up to 11 points, at 27-16, Doha replied with a try and a successful place kick to suddenly find themselves only four points adrift.
With darkness having fallen and the floodlights having taken over completely, the players’ bodies glistened with sweat in the humidity as both sides fought for possession over the next 10-minute period of play with neither managing to score until Bahrain centre Regan VD Westhuizen scored the final points of the night: a try conversion that netted the hosts five points with the scoreboard showing the hosts leading 32-23.
Soon, it was all over and the MC urged the audience to give the Doha players a round of applause and the spectators obliged.
“And now, let’s give Alastair Crombie and his boys a big hand!” the MC shouted and the crowd erupted in a cacophony of cheering and clapping.
“This is a great result,” Cunningham told the GDN.
“As predicted, Doha came out to win the game and it was a tough encounter, it was a really challenging match.
“But I was pleased to see the way the boys dug in, they weathered the storm and they came out as the winners.”
Assistant coach Lindsey Gibson agreed, saying it was a good performance, all in all.
“It’s a home win in the first game of the season in the league so fairly happy with that,” he told the GDN.
“The boys played very well in patches, despite not having much of the ball.
“But Mason was superb! And his goal-kicking, in particular, was exceptional. Also, Aled Morris produced a brilliant performance, despite a yellow card.
“Also, a couple of new lads played today. They came in from the Golden Oldies’ second team, so very happy with those boys.
Meanwhile, Cunningham paid tribute to the Doha team, saying they had frustrated the hosts through their canny moves to retain possession for much of the duration of the match.
“They worked hard throughout the game,” he said.
“They tackled hard and they frustrated us.
“So I’m very pleased with the way our boys responded.
“It would have been nice to get the bonus point but we’ll take the win.”
With seven teams in the mix this year – Doha and the Dubai Hurricanes have re-entered the fray after missing the last season for different reasons, joining the Jebel Ali Dragons, Abu Dhabi Harlequins, Dubai Exiles, Dubai Tigers and Bahrain in the battle for the 2023-23 crown – the Reds will have the luxury of taking a break next weekend with matches for other teams scheduled instead.
Their next encounter will be with the Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the UAE on October 6.
“We’ve got next weekend off because it’s a seven-team league this year,” Gibson explained.
“Which is good for us. We’ll let the bodies rest up and then get back into it against the Quins.”