x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Asian Five Nations: Family guys add spice to UAE rugby side for rumble in Manila

A corner of a foreign field will be supporting UAE against the Philippines for the relegation-decider.

Malcom Greenslade, left, and Jonathan Greenwood enjoy a relaxed moment at Manila Bay in Philippines. Mike Young / The National
Malcom Greenslade, left, and Jonathan Greenwood enjoy a relaxed moment at Manila Bay in Philippines. Mike Young / The National

Judging by the robust marketing campaign that took place in cyberspace this week, the UAE can expect to be confronted by a staunchly partisan crowd when they play for Asian Five Nations survival in Manila this afternoon.

It seems safe to assume from the lobbying on social media that the Philippines Volcanoes are woven significantly deeper into their nation's sporting fabric than their counterparts have managed so far.

However, there will be a corner of the Rizal Memorial Stadium in the Philippines capital which will be unashamedly backing the touring team.

Two of the bright young things of UAE rugby, Jonny Greenwood and Malcolm Greenslade, have Filipina mothers.

Car loads of their respective families will be making the two-hour drive to the match, and will be proudly waving UAE flags despite their ties to their homeland.

"It is like any other Test match in that you have to prepare yourself for the game," said Greenwood, the Abu Dhabi-born and raised hooker who travels to Manila every summer to visit his family.

"It is good to be playing in front our your family and the home support, albeit bittersweet that you are playing for the other nation.

"I love it and think it will be the perfect weather to play open rugby in. It will be a good experience."

Although Greenwood is unquestionably a product of UAE, having been born in the capital, worked in Sharjah and playing domestic rugby for Dubai Hurricanes, his ties with Philippines run deep, too.

His mother, Teng, returned to her homeland last October when his stepfather Mike Murphy secured a job in the Far East.

The mother and son reunion this weekend is likely to be an extra incentive to excel for Greenwood, whose day job is a project controller in the oil and gas industry.

Not that the UAE team, whose status among the top rank of Asian rugby nations depends on victory today, need any additional motivation.

"Different players get distracted," said Duncan Hall, the UAE performance manager.

"All the players need good mental application and we worked on some areas last week and we are working on some areas this week for everyone.

"There is going to be a very noisy crowd, very supportive, it will be a humid night, so there are a few things running against us from that point of view."

The powers that be in UAE rugby have high hopes for these two young players who were born and raised on these shores.

It speaks volumes for Greenslade's merit as a winger that he has been granted a starting place for the most important fixture of the UAE's season.

Despite being part of the national team for the Cup of Nations tournament at the end of 2012, when he made his UAE debut, he only belatedly integrated himself into the training squad ahead of this Five Nations.

"When you come to the Cup of Nations you just get together and play, but the requirement for this assembly is quite massive," Hall said.

"It is a big commitment for the players. It is fairly low key until the end of the season and then after that point we take over their lives for another five or six weeks. It is good to have him."

The management are also believed to have taken a dim view of Greenslade turning out for Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the concurrent Rugby League Cup.

However, given the make or break nature of this fixture, it was vital his attacking prowess was added to a team who have managed just two tries in three Tests.

"He's got a little bit to work on in terms of positioning, but he has got gas, hits like a steam train and scores tries in important games," said Chris Davies, Greenslade's club coach a Harlequins.

"He works hard and once he realises the chance he has got I think he'll take it by the scruff of the neck."

Greenwood has been an ongoing "project" for the coaching staff since being plucked from second tier rugby with Sharjah Wanderers to play Test match rugby aged 21 last year.

The front row forward, who speaks English with a broad Welsh accent, is fluent in Tagalog having been home-schooled in the language by his mother when he was growing up.

It is a handy skill to have. In his role as hooker, the powerful Dubai Hurricane is part of the brain trust tasked with cracking the opposition line out code.

"The targets this weekend are just to do my bread and butter right, hit my jumpers in the line out, win the rucks, mauls and scrums," Greenwood said.

pradley@thenational.ae

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