DUBAI // The UAE have suffered a setback in their bid for Asian Five Nations survival as Brett Williams, the team's vice captain, is unable to travel to Manila for this weekend's relegation decider against the Philippines.
The Dubai Exiles No 8, who captained the team in the opening match of the campaign, was the notable absentee from the tour party named to fly to South-east Asia on Wednesday.
The Australian back-row forward is staying in Dubai to be with his wife as she is due to give birth.
"Brett is on call 24x7 at the moment so he is unable to travel," said Duncan Hall, the UAE performance manager.
"We are going to miss him but family comes first and we do have improving depth [in the back row]."
While the absence of Williams will likely be keenly felt, given that he has arguably been the national team's standout player over the past two years, it may not be a telling blow.
The back row is the one area where the national team does have considerable depth. Jamie Clarke, the Doha-based flanker, has been declared fit to travel having missed the Japan game last week through injury, and has been named at No 8.
Renier Els will captain the side again from the blindside flank, having passed a fitness test on a shoulder injury.
David Knight, David Matasio, and Ollie Delapp, who is nominally the replacement hooker, complete a strong core of loose forwards in the tour party.
The fact the UAE squad emerged from Friday's 93-3 loss to Japan with little more than a few superficial scars is a bonus for a side who need to win to remain in Asian rugby union's top tier.
Delapp was sporting a ripe black eye in training this week, and Chris Burch, the centre, also has a badge of honour from the Japan contest in the form of deep bruising on his upper arm.
However, the morale of the team remains high despite the travails in this year's Asian Five Nations to date.
"You go through all that pain of the scoreboard, but I have always been more concerned about performance," said Hall.
"The downside of our season to date is we haven't scored as many tries as we would have liked.
"That has been against all the top opposition and the ball is in our court now and we have to put points on the board against the Philippines.
"That's the only way you can win the game. We are going to draw on our strengths and we are going out there to win."
Asian Five Nations, Philippines v UAE
Rizal Memorial Stadium, Manila
Saturday, 7pm (local)
UAE starting XI 15 Steve Smith, 14 Jono Bester, 13 Harry Woods, 12 Chris Burch 11 Malcolm Greenslade, 10 James Ham, 9 Gareth Armstrong, 1 Graham Murphy, 2 Jonathan Greenwood, 3 Dan Boatwright, 4 Anthony Murphy, 5 Ed Talbot, 6 Renier Els, 7 David Knight, 8 Jamie Clarke
Replacements 16 Ollie Delapp, 17 Chris Jones Griffiths, 18 Brett Bowie, 19 David Matasio, 20 Mark Weissenborn, 21 Sean Hurley, 22 Cyrus Homayoun, 23 Antoine Berthuile
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