x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Asian Five Nations: Captain Brett Williams thrown in at deep end of UAE rugby side

Looking for two wins from this season, UAE will have the caretaker captain at the helm as they travel to formidable Hong Kong.

UAE, in white, failed to stop Hong Kong from beating them 51-6 in December at Dubai but have reportedly improved with intense training in Cyprus last month. Mike Young / The National
UAE, in white, failed to stop Hong Kong from beating them 51-6 in December at Dubai but have reportedly improved with intense training in Cyprus last month. Mike Young / The National

DUBAI // Brett Williams, the caretaker captain for the UAE's trip to Hong Kong this weekend, says the national team are targeting two wins from this season's Asian Five Nations.

The Dubai Exiles loose-forward has been placed in temporary charge of the side as Renier Els, the regular captain, is unable to travel this weekend due to work commitments.

Williams has some experience of the leadership role, having led the national team on their training trip to Cyprus earlier this month.

However, his first official assignment in charge is likely to be a taxing one, as the UAE ready themselves for arguably the toughest A5N to date.

And while the national team hope to secure the victories to safeguard their place in the top flight of Asian rugby for another year, Williams acknowledges the first of them may be difficult to come by, in Hong Kong.

"We definitely want to stay up in the top division and the goal is the same as it was last year - ideally, to have two wins," Williams said.

"Obviously, we don't know what is going to happen in any match, but the two matches we are aiming to do that are South Korea [in Al Ain next Friday] and Philippines [on May 18].

"We really want to try to get a win against Korea so it doesn't come down to the last match in Manila as to whether we stay up or not. That is always a possibility and they are a bit of an unknown."

Hong Kong were the opposition when a side from this region, which was still an Arabian Gulf collective team back then, first played an Asian Five Nations match after the tournament's inception in 2008.

They have advanced rapidly since then. Hong Kong now have such a deep player pool that they have opted to rest their leading sevens players for this weekend's match, as they are bidding to become one of the IRB's core nations in the short format.

Back in 2008, only eight points divided the two sides. It says much about the progress of the two nations, though, that the 51-6 win for Hong Kong in Dubai in December was regarded as a minor triumph for the UAE.

However, Duncan Hall, the UAE coach, believes the national team have improved markedly since then, not least thanks to the trip to Cyprus when they fitted "a month's worth of training" into three days.

Leigh Jones, Hall's opposite number with Hong Kong, acknowledged his side need to be wary of their visitors.

He said Hong Kong's win in the Emirates Cup of Nations "could be a double-edged sword for us".

Jones added: "I fully expect it to be a very different and a very improved team from the one we faced in Dubai at the end of the year.

"We are expecting the usual UAE match with them taking advantage of their nuggety forwards.

"The UAE are a very solid and direct team. Our forwards will need to contain that."

pradley@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE