DUBAI // Bruce Birtwistle has taken another step to ensuring he will leave a lasting legacy following his spell in charge of the national side after naming four Emiratis in the squad for his final match on Saturday.
The New Zealander will step down from his role as coach after the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top 5 match in Hong Kong on Saturday and could bow out having established the UAE as the best amateur side in Asian rugby. Yet with second place behind Japan at stake, Birtwistle has had no qualms over doubling the number of Emiratis in the 26-man squad for the game at Hong Kong Football Club.
Cyrus Homayoun and Ali Mohammed retain their places in the squad, Mohanned Shaker, who was an unused replacement in the first game against Sri Lanka, returns while Abdullah Ahmed, the Dubai Wasps flyer, has gotten his first call-up.
Abdullah caught the eye on his last appearance on the big stage, scoring a try for Dubai Wasps in the curtain-raiser match at Emirates Palace prior to the Harlequins v London Wasps LV= Cup match in January.
The UAE are smarting, according to the chief executive of the Rugby Association, following their 111-0 mauling at the hands of Japan last week.
"The team is certainly charged after last week's performance (against Japan) and are looking toward a big away performance to finish off the season," Ian Bremner said.
"For UAE Rugby, this match is undoubtedly the most important in this year's Top 5 division. We expect to see a more level playing field in our pairing against Hong Kong and we know that they are a side who is on the up."
Birtwistle has made seven changes to the squad, three of which are unforced because of the unavailability of Dan Boatwright, Andrew Millar and Stephan Imbert. The most notable switches see Stuart Quinn return at scrum-half and Steve Smith given his chance on the wing.
"The team is fired up and are focused on walking away with a win which will see us take second place in this year's series, as well as recognise us as the best amateur team in Asia," Birtwistle said.
"Hong Kong have improved noticeably over the past year, in fact they outscored Japan in the second half despite their loss"
1. Chris Jones Griffiths – Abu Dhabi Harlequins
2. David Vittes – Dubai Exiles
3. Mike Riley (Munib Haddad) – Dubai Exiles
3. Simon Osbourne – Dubai Hurricanes
5. Mike Cox-Hill – Dubai Exiles (C)
6. Renier Els – Abu Dhabi Harlequins
7. Jamie Clarke – Abu Dhabi Harlequins
8. Carl Von Rosenveldt – Dubai Exiles
9. Stuart Quinn – Dubai Exiles
10. Jonathan Grady – Dubai Dragons
11. Steve Smith – Dubai Hurricanes
12. Duncan Murray – Dubai Hurricanes
13. John Beeton – Dubai Exiles
14. Sean Hurley – Dubai Dragons
15. Tim Fletcher – Dubai Dragons
16. Dan Heal – Dubai Dragons
17. Mohanned Shaker – Dubai Wasps
18. Phillip Stevens – Dubai Exiles
19. Lloyd Budd – Dubai Exiles
20. David Clouston – Dubai Hurricanes
21. Michael Hartley – Abu Dhabi Harlequins
22. Ali Mohammed – Dubai Wasps
23. Scott Kerr – Dubai Dragons
24. Cyrus Homayoun – Dubai Dragons
25. Chris Deacon – Dubai Exiles
26. Abdulla Ahmed – Dubai Wasps
* With agency