DUBAI // UAE rugby has been handed a major boost ahead of the new season after Wayne Marsters, the national sevens coach, was able to name both Andy Russell and Renier Els in his squad for this weekend's Borneo Sevens.
The South Africa-born duo, who rank as two of the outstanding players in the domestic game, have been conspicuous by their absence from national duty of late.
Russell's long-awaited involvement in international competition for the UAE has amounted to little more than an hour so far, after he snapped a bone in his leg during his debut against Hong Kong in April.
Els, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins flanker, captained the UAE in the opening match of the Emirates Cup of Nations at the end of 2011, having made his national team bow earlier that year.
He subsequently missed much of the domestic campaign because of a knee injury sustained on international duty, and was also a notable absentee from the UAE's Asian Five Nations campaign because of work commitments.
However, he has impressed since training with the sevens squad this summer, and has been given the captaincy for this weekend's opening leg of the Asian Sevens Series.
"I am fortunate that I have been able to get back in to training, as I feel that if you can't commit to something 100 per cent then don't do it at all," Els said. "Duncan [Hall, the UAE performance manager] and Wayne have high expectations for the team after we finished ninth in the [Asian Sevens Series] last year.
"There is a lot to play for, with the possibility of qualifying for Hong Kong and there is the World Cup Sevens in Moscow next year, too.
"I don't rate myself as a sevens player to be honest, but I went to training to get fit for XVs, and it is a really different type of game. I am looking forward to it."
The national team have been drawn in a group with their regular combatants Hong Kong, as well as Malaysia, and Marsters is positive about his side's chances.
"The boys have been working hard on their fitness and skills over the summer, and our selection pool has definitely been boosted by a number of players who have recently become eligible, which helps in such a transient environment," the coach said.
The squad travelling to Borneo also includes four emerging Emirati players - Cyrus Homayoun, Mohanned and Yousef Shaker, and Mohammed Al Sulaiman.
"With sevens rugby now an Olympic sport we are focused on developing and increasing our Olympic-qualified player pool," said Qais Al Dhalai, the deputy secretary of UAE Rugby.
Byron Kraemer, the former Arabian Gulf flanker, has returned to the fold, while Shaheer Reyal has been handed a first call up to play alongside brother Imad.
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