Abu Dhabi // The drive to capture the imagination of rugby fans in the country continues Friday when the UAE's performance director sends out his side for their final game ahead of the Asia Five Nations with a mandate to play with ambition.
Duncan Hall, the former Australia international, wants the UAE to adopt the expansive style favoured by teams in the southern hemisphere and hopes the work on the training field is in evidence at The Sevens when they meet Gulf Barbarians in the last warm-up game before they face Hong Kong on April 27.
"We want to chance our hand, put defences under pressure and score tries," Hall said. "There will be mistakes but that is all part of the learning process. We will not be one of those teams who just goes through the phases. That is not on our agenda. That kind of philosophy is built into the players and it's about challenging that and getting them to thinking outside the box."
Richard Liddington, who will skipper the opposition, said: "We want an open game. I won't be instructing to kick for the posts all afternoon."
UAE played their first competitive game as a union only a year ago, earning a draw with Sri Lanka, and Hall wants to recapture the scenes that greeted the country's first victory over Kazakhstan in May, and mobilise local support with an exciting brand of rugby. "We will be playing Test, creating history by representing the country and working hard, but I want the players to enjoy themselves," Hall said. "I want to create an environment where UAE fans want to come and watch us."
The UAE failed to score a try in a fiery friendly with Tunisia, although they threatened with some inventive back play.
Andy Russell, the Dubai Dragons fly-half, will be charged with igniting the backline and replaces Murray Strang at No 10.
"We want to find out if we lost Murray Strang, who would our next best 10 be," Hall said.
"Ten has become the playmaker but I don't want the team to revolve around them.
"I want a more of a Mark Ella fly-half, who plays more on the support lines."
The Johannesburg-born Russell qualifies to play for the UAE on residency grounds and is the brother of Brent, the former Springbok flyer. He is also a handy cricketer.
Hall also has brought in Tristan Barnett to partner his club teammate Simon Osbourne in the second row, facilitating Greg Thompson's move to No 8 to replace his namesake, Alistair, who will spend the first half resting his problematic knee on the bench.
Brett Williams is also among the replacements, nursing the nasty stitched cut around the eye he sustained last week.
The return of Jonathan O'Connor, the Abu Dhabi Harlequins centre, who has been out for a prolonged period with an Achilles problem, is expected.
In an effort to shore up a scrum that creaked last week, Christopher Jones-Griffiths replaces Dan Boatwright at tight-head prop.
"It's very important we stabilise that area," Hall said.
The pack will also partake in a series of live scrummaging sessions next week against club players.
"It's an area we are working hard to improve," Hall said.
BARBARIANS PLAN TO BE A STERN TEST
For their part, the Gulf Barbarians team have vowed to give the UAE team a thorough examination, even though the majority of the representative XV will travel over from Bahrain and Doha in Friday morning prior to the friendly that afternoon.
Ed Lewsey, the British School Al Khubairat teacher and brother of the World Cup winner Josh, and Diarmuid Kelly, the fullback, will travel to Dubai from the capital.
The Gulf will field UAE prospects Peter Sampson and Jono Bester, so Duncan Hall, the UAE performance director, can run the rule over them.
But that is the only favour the home side can expect.
“We certainly won’t be pulling any punches,” said Richard Liddington, the Gulf captain and Doha prop. “We are coming over to win. Post-season, it’s good to get a game and The Sevens is a cracking facility to play at but we are coming to have a go at it, that’s for sure.”
Liddington, a former US international, was asked by Ian Bremner, his former director of rugby at Exeter and the Rugby Association chief executive, to organise a XV to play against the UAE. The backbone of the side will be made of Doha players. In a fascinating subplot, they will line up against the Abu Dhabi Harlequins players who edged them to the Top Six title on points difference.
“That one still hurts, especially as we beat them home and away,” said Liddington, who will be joined in the team by club mates Aaron Brown and Aaron Palmer which should help the fluency.
“We’ll get the guys together, go through a few line-out calls,” the captain said.
“I’ll tell the forwards what I want and then the backs will do their thing.”
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