Dan Boatwright, the Dubai Hurricanes prop, claimed the honour of scoring the first try in international competition for the UAE, yet rugby’s newest Test nation were left feeling unfulfilled from their maiden outing.
Boatwright and his Hurricanes clubmate Steve Smith provided the tries as the UAE overturned an 8-0 deficit to draw with Sri Lanka in a sodden opening match in the 2011 HSBC Asian Five Nations.
“It was a dogged effort from the boys,” Mike Cox-Hill, the UAE captain, said. “We are still dissatisfied with a draw as it’s a game we will look back on and feel we were a good few points better.
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“It was a proper rugby experience, I said to the boys they needed to take it all in as it will be a great experience to look back on – though maybe not the result.”
The UAE were playing their first match as a competitive rugby nation, and they were treated to a tough baptism.
Sri Lanka ranks among the world’s top 10 nations in terms of rugby participation. A recent report by the International Rugby Board (IRB) revealed there are twice as many registered players on the island than there are in Scotland, one of rugby’s longest established nations.
The passion for the game manifested itself in a crowd of more than 4,000 supporters at the atmospheric Ceylonese Rugby and Football Club.
The UAE’s players rarely play in front of as much as 100 people in their domestic competition, but the atmosphere beyond the touchline was not the only alien condition greeting them.
The rainy season arrived with a vengeance on Sri Lanka’s south-west coast yesterday morning, and pitch was like a quagmire.
Given the power and experience of the UAE’s pack, that could have played into their hands as the game rarely extended beyond the forwards, plus the scrum-half and fly-half.
However, the rain was so extreme that handling errors were frequent from both sides, and the Sri Lankans profited from one such mistake to level the scores.
“The conditions really levelled the sides,” Cox-Hill said. “We had a lot of possession, we were dominant at the line-out and at the scrum, but when you have so much rain on the field, you can’t build phase after phase.
“We are disappointed that we didn’t win, yet happy we got the draw after being 8-0 down. In the conditions, we have eked out a result, and earned two points away from home.”
The Sri Lankans were also left feeling empty. They missed two penalties to give them victory — although the UAE did have the final shot at goal before the whistle — and were denied a late try because of a knock-on.
“We created enough opportunities to win and it should have really come down to goal kicking,” Ellis Meachen, the Sri Lanka coach, said.
“All in all we played enough good rugby to win the game. UAE played well in close quarters but didn’t offer anything in the backs.”
The UAE may regard the draw in Colombo as a missed opportunity in the battle to beat the drop, but they still have reasons for optimism ahead of their first home game, given what happened elsewhere on the opening day.
The national team face Kazakhstan at the Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi on Friday. The former Soviet state finished second last year and are regarded as one of the fastest developing rugby nations in the world.
However, they suffered a terrible start to the competition — going down to a 23-10 defeat in Hong Kong, and lost two players to red cards in the second half of the game.