UAE 6 Hong Kong 51
DUBAI // UAE rugby clawed back some lost pride last night thanks largely to a 45-year-old prop making his full debut in international rugby, and a hooker who delayed flying to his wedding in the United States to fight for the cause.
Pete Sampson, the Abu Dhabi Saracens No 2, has already had to postpone his nuptials once due to visa complications last year.
This time around, his wife-to-be, who is already in Rhode Island ahead of their big day, had permitted him to stay on to play the first two Emirates Cup of Nations matches - but left strict instructions not to get injured.
That nearly ended badly, too. Sampson dislocated his kneecap early in the second half against Hong Kong.
Fortunately, he was still able to totter to the dressing room unaided. He would not have been forgiven if he had missed his Etihad flight last night.
The partnership between Sampson and his Saracens colleague in the front row, Brett Bowie, underpinned a vastly improved display for the national team.
It says much about the stretched resources that the UAE could be so reliant on a player who was playing social vets rugby last weekend and who had retired from the sport midway through last season.
"There are so many ironies in me playing for the UAE - who would have expected someone to front up in international rugby having just turned 45?" Bowie, a New Zealand native, said after the match.
"I had a great time. The scrums were pretty solid, and to hold them to that score - from what I've heard - is pretty respectable.
"With what happened last weekend [losing 94-3 against Belgium] that was a pretty good result as I think most people were expecting a ton to be put on us. We proved them wrong."
While the UAE still shipped a half-century of points, this was a mini-triumph, given they lost by in excess of 80 when these two sides met in April, and the national team has been denuded greatly since then.
Duncan Hall, the UAE performance manager, said his new-look side had benefited from more time in each other's company. The national team had only had four hours of training together before the start of this tournament.
"The lift in intensity the boys brought tonight was fantastic and we are very proud of them," Hall said.
"It gives us something to build on psychologically [ahead of Friday's match against Zimbabwe]."
Tom McColl, the Hong Kong captain, said his side were flattered by the scoreboard, and were just grateful for the victory.
"We didn't execute everything we wanted to which was disappointing, but a win is a win and we get to play Belgium on Friday night for the championship," McColl said.