x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Asian Five Nations: Andy Russell a suprise late edition to the UAE party

The Jebel Ali Dragon and ICC cricket coach takes a late flight to join his team without much training under him.

The UAE players started training in Manila, without Andy Russell, which included pool games at the team hotel.
The UAE players started training in Manila, without Andy Russell, which included pool games at the team hotel.

The UAE have been handed a boost in their bid to beat the drop from the Asian Five Nations after Andy Russell was handed a shock recall to the starting line-up.

The Jebel Ali Dragon, who has long been one of the leading lights of the game here, was not named in the initial tour party to the Philippines.

However, his name appeared as the UAE's No 10 when the teams were officially declared yesterday afternoon for today's relegation decider at the Rizal Stadium.

Russell travelled separately from the squad, having been booked on a flight to Manila after working late on Thursday evening.

Given that he has only trained once with the national team, South African flyer represents a special case within a side who usually observe a policy that only players who commit to training regularly are selected.

There are mitigating factors in Russell's case, though, chiefly the fact his rare talent could unlock the door to the tryline for a UAE side who have managed just one try in three Five Nations Tests to date.

Furthermore, he is owed some payback on an international career that has been cruelly stalled for the past year, after he broke his leg on debut for the national team 13 months ago.

UAE rugby had eagerly counted down the days until the Johannesburg-born back qualified for national duty, only for him to snap his fibula in his first Test match against Hong Kong.

"We always want to have the best club players playing and Andy Russell has shown in his club rugby that he is outstanding," said Duncan Hall, the UAE performance manager.

"He has only had one Test match for us, against Hong Kong last year and suffered an unfortunate injury which we hope is well and truly past."

Even though his flight ticket to Philippines was booked early in the week, the UAE management sought to keep Russell's recall under wraps until as late as possible.

This was for two reasons. Primarily, the late announcement would limit the chances of the home side gathering intelligence on Russell, whom a number of their players may have faced before on the Asian Sevens Series.

Secondly, despite investing high hopes in the impact he might have, they wanted to lighten the burden on a player whose game time is limited by his job as a cricket coach at the ICC Academy.

Although he was a key figure in Jebel Ali Dragons' domination of the domestic scene this season, Russell rarely trains and often only arrives for league matches once kick off has already taken place.

"Because of his commitments to work as a cricket coach, it is impossible for him to give the type of commitment we need," Hall said.

"We are lucky that, for this last game, his bosses have given them that latitude.

"He has had support from the other coaches, and he really wants to play. We are looking forward to playing with him," Hall added.


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