x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Inexperienced side of Emiratis selected for Asian Sevens Series but 'losing is not an issue'.

Cyrus Homayoun, the UAE winger, is part of 12-man squad who will take part in the Asian Sevens Series in Thailand this weekend. Photo courtesy Kenji Demura / RJP
Cyrus Homayoun, the UAE winger, is part of 12-man squad who will take part in the Asian Sevens Series in Thailand this weekend. Photo courtesy Kenji Demura / RJP

DUBAI // The transformation of the national sevens side will be complete this weekend when a tour party exclusively made up of Emirati players travels to Thailand for the second leg of the Asian Sevens Series.

The UAE Rugby Federation have been intending to select only UAE passport holders for the four-tournament series, as they look to construct a side for next year’s Asian Games.

Last time around, however, they still leaned on a little overseas help after selecting Imad Reyal, the Sri Lankan expatriate who is the leading sevens player in the country, for the first leg in Kuala Lumpur.

This time around, a squad of emerging Emirati players, including four 18 year olds, will have to fend for themselves for the first time.

Their task is likely to be a tough one. Even with Reyal in the ranks, the UAE lost every game in the opening tournament of the series.

Since then, the federation have officially announced the departure of Ian Bremner, the chief executive, while they have also revised previously stated goals for the national team.

At the end of last season, Bremner stated that the national team aimed to finish “within the top six” of all competitions entered.

However, Qais Al Dhalai, the federation’s secretary general, says results are now of secondary importance to the overall goal of developing the sport among Emiratis.

“We went [to the Asian Sevens Series] last year with 80 per cent expatriate players but we were still losing by big scores,” Al Dhalai said.

“We won some, but we lost many. Going to Kuala Lumpur and losing is not an issue.

“We don’t look at the result. We just need to develop our players and we have to start somewhere.

“If we keep saying, let’s go with expatriates, next September how can we play in Incheon at the Asian Games? How can I persuade my Olympic Committee that I have an Emirati team?”

Among the group of inexperienced players is an 18 year old debutant from Al Ain, Abdullah Al Hajri, the latest product of the federation’s schools programme.

According to Salman Hadi, the federation’s vice chairman who will be leading the 17-man delegation to Thailand, the side will be better equipped to succeed than in Malaysia last time out.

“Master Epeli [Lagiloa, the coach] has concentrated heavily during the last two months in preparing those youngsters to participate in the Asian Sevens Series,” Hadi said.

“I believe we are making history for UAE rugby by having four out of the 12 players at an age of 18 years old.”

Asian Sevens Series

Bangkok Sevens

Pool C: UAE, South Korea, Malaysia, Cambodia

UAE squad: 1 Abdullah Al Hajri, 2 Adel Al Hendi, 3 Ali Mohammed, 4 Yousef Shaker, 5 Cyrus Homayoun, 6 Majid Al Balooshi, 7 Saeed Saad, 8 Taleb Al Khaja, 9 Hareb Al Azri, 10 Mohanned Shaker, 11 Walid Al Balooshi, 12 Suhail Yaqoob

pradley@thenational.ae