x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Asian Five Nations: Hong Kong loss shows UAE 'still have a lot of work to do'

"Hong Kong without their sevens players still did more than enough to win and it was disappointing, because we have come a long way in the last few months," says coach Duncan Hall.

UAE captain Brett Williams attempts to get to grips with the Hong Kong captain Tom McColl, as a grounded Jamie Clarke looks on. Courtesy of Elite Step
UAE captain Brett Williams attempts to get to grips with the Hong Kong captain Tom McColl, as a grounded Jamie Clarke looks on. Courtesy of Elite Step

Given the UAE's survival in the top flight of Asian competition owed so much to home advantage last year, the national team probably cannot wait to return to the desert from the humidity of Hong Kong this weekend.

Duncan Hall, the UAE coach, cited a litany of errors stemming from his players failing to keep hold of the ball in the alien conditions as part of the reason for the eight-tries-to-one defeat in their Asian Five Nations tournament opener yesterday.

"Our ball control was poor with the ball like a piece of soap," Hall said after the loss at the Hong Kong Football Club. "But we also overplayed a certain type of [forward-dominated] game and under pressure we reverted to type."

Last year the UAE safeguarded their place in the top tier of this competition after cannily exploiting home staging rights by playing their crucial meeting with Kazakhstan at 4pm in April in Dubai.

The mercury was touching 40°C at kick off back then. After the ensuing defeat had condemned them to relegation, the angry Kazakhs threatened to play the return fixture - whenever it next occurs in Siberia.

If they are to pull off a similar heist again this year, the UAE will need to win at least one of their matches against either South Korea at home or against the Philippines in Manila.

Friday's potentially decisive meeting with the Koreans kicks off at 5pm in Al Ain. However, Hall acknowledged his side, whose points came via a try for their captain Brett Williams and conversion by James Ham, need to improve markedly on yesterday's effort to stand a chance, whatever the weather.

"Hong Kong without their sevens players still did more than enough to win and it was disappointing, because we have come a long way in the last few months," Hall said. "It shows we still have a lot of work to do."

Neither coach expressed much in the way of satisfaction, as familiarity with the high humidity barely helped Hong Kong much, either. Despite their eight tries, and the fact they did not even consider 12 of their leading sevens players for selection, Hong Kong were below par, according to Leigh Jones, their coach.

"It was a disjointed effort from us but it was to be expected," the Welshman said. "We had a number of new guys playing in the A5N for the first time and we were missing our sevens players, those with the X-factor.

"I'm not happy at all with our performance but we have to give credit to UAE for their nuggety and tough defence which put us under a lot of pressure."

pradley@thenational.ae

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