Big learning curve for UAE rugby
DUBAI // As the national team stumble exhaustedly towards the first birthday of UAE rugby, the powers-that-be were given graphic evidence of just how much needs to be done to progress the game here Saturday.
This defeat at the hands of Hong Kong was no anomaly. The national team lost the reverse fixture 62-3 in May, cementing their position in third place in the Asian Five Nations (A5N).
On this evidence, the gap between Asia's second and third best sides is currently closer to the size of the Pacific than the Gulf.
"I don't think we have gone backwards," said Renier Els, the UAE captain.
"This is just our sixth game as a country, so we are still very much in a development phase. This whole tournament is building towards the A5N for 2012. We can't take any credit away from Hong Kong - they are a well-drilled team, and they took their opportunity today."
The defeat must have been deflating for Wayne Marsters, the UAE's interim coach.
In 2008, he had also taken temporary charge of the Arabian Gulf - the regional side which was the precursor to the UAE - and ironically faced Hong Kong in his first game in charge then.
The Gulf were narrowly beaten that day in Al Ain, and afterwards Marsters lauded for the way Hong Kong rugby was run, and suggested the Gulf should use it as a template.
Three and a half years on, a new embryonic union and national team are starting from scratch again.
"I still think there is a lot we can learn from Hong Kong rugby and what they have done in the past four years," Marsters said.
"They certainly have a lot more resources available to them. They are a real cash cow, even compared to some of the best unions in the world.
"I think the structures they have in place are something we can learn from. Compared to back then, in Al Ain, Saturday was a bit of a drubbing."
To exemplify Marsters's point, Pale Tauti, the Hong Kong No 8 and captain, is employed by the Hong Kong rugby union as a coach and community development officer.
While the UAE, whose players all earn their living outside of the sport, are looking to bridge the gap to Hong Kong, Tauti's side are trying to catch up with Japan, Asian rugby's one super power.
"We played some really good rugby today," Tauti said.
"It is a building phase for us, just like the UAE boys, ahead of the A5N, so it is really important for us to come here, play well and come away with three wins."
To exacerbate the UAE's woes, Imad Reyal, the gifted newcomer who played at fly-half, was handed a three-week ban for a dangerous tackle last night.