x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Asian Five Nations rivals' problems is not a good thing for UAE

If Japan and Hong Kong are worried over their big player pool for the event, UAE have lot of ground to cover.

UAE, in white, have struggled against Hong Kong in the past, who in turn are thinking of avoiding relegation in the Asian Five Nations which gives an idea of the level of competition UAE are up against. Mike Young / The National
UAE, in white, have struggled against Hong Kong in the past, who in turn are thinking of avoiding relegation in the Asian Five Nations which gives an idea of the level of competition UAE are up against. Mike Young / The National

A week on from a triumphant end to a compelling season of domestic competition, it has not taken long for UAE rugby to be reminded of the challenge that now awaits on the international stage.

When the official fixtures for this year's Asian Five Nations (A5N) were confirmed yesterday, they were accompanied by quotes from two of Asia's leading rugby nations warning of perils facing each of them.

Take Japan, the undefeated five-time champions of Asia's premier competition.

This time around they have to find cover for players they have lost to Super Rugby.

Shota Horie, the hooker, became the first player from his country to play in the southern hemisphere's blue riband domestic event when he was picked for Melbourne Rebels.

Fumiaka Tanaka, their scrum-half, also has a contract with the Highlanders in New Zealand.

It is a sign of Japan's progression in the game, and their national team are unlikely to be overburdened by their absence for the A5N.

"We need to further develop our squad so I anticipate at least a 20 percent change in personnel from last season," said Eddie Jones, Japan's coach.

"A couple of our senior players are also playing in Super Rugby this season which will give the youngsters a wonderful chance to step up."

Then there is Hong Kong, who host the UAE in their tournament opener on April 20.

They have thrashed UAE on each of the past four occasions they have met, yet are talking in terms of trying to stave off relegation in this Five Nations, such are the pressures weighing on them.

Hong Kong are having to juggle their player pool as they are simultaneously attempting to become an elite IRB sevens nation via the London Sevens. "It will be a fine balancing act," Dai Rees, Hong Kong's head of performance, was quoted as saying.

"We need to win two games to make certain of our standing in this competition next season."

How the UAE would love such problems as losing players to Super Rugby, or to be distracted by the chance of becoming a core side in the short format.

By contrast, pickings are so meagre here that arguably the country's largest club had to forfeit a league match two weeks ago because of a dearth of players.

The rapid advance by the top sides on the continent means this A5N is likely to be the toughest assignment the nascent national team has faced yet.

pradley@thenational.ae

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