x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Asian Five Nations: Japan travel light to UAE but remain favourites

The continent's No 1 side, who have already sewn up a sixth successive Asian Five Nations title, have opted to rest a number of senior players.

DUBAI // The UAE have been granted some mercy ahead of their daunting clash with Japan tomorrow after the Brave Blossoms travelled to the emirates with a weakened squad.

The continent's No 1 side, who have already sewn up a sixth successive Asian Five Nations title, have opted to rest a number of senior players as they prepare for a heavy schedule ahead.

"We have a few injuries and some of the guys who have been training very hard over the past five weeks deserve their opportunity," said Eddie Jones, the Japan coach.

"This is a chance to increase the depth of our squad because, starting in two weeks' time, we have six Test matches in five weeks. This is an ideal opportunity to see if the young players are up to Test-match rugby."

Despite the changes, the UAE still face an uphill battle, with Duncan Hall, the national team coach, acknowledging the following trip to Manila remains the more important fixture.

"Quite simply, Japan are a juggernaut, they are well ahead of the competition in fitness, skill, resources and development," Hall said. "Our overall goal from the 2013 tournament is to retain our position in the Top Five and we had identified two games as winnable. That is not our goal or focus for this match. This match will be a very good litmus test."

The last time Japan played in this city they won 111-0 in front of a crowd in excess of 1,000 spectators.

"We are very pleased to welcome Japan to the UAE," said Mohammed Falaknaz, the UAE Rugby Federation's chairman.

"They are an exciting team to watch, they are a well-disciplined, professional unit.

"By playing them at our home ground we are hoping for a good turnout to give our players the support and encouragement they deserve."

Steve Smith, the veteran Dubai Hurricanes winger, has been recalled to the UAE squad after recovering from injury.

pradley@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE