The UAE coach insists the national team are better equipped than ever before to deal with Kazakhstan's bruising forward pack.
Bruce Birtwistle expects UAE pack to match Kazakh forward threat
ABU DHABI // Bruce Birtwistle, the UAE coach, insists the national team are better equipped than ever before to deal with Kazakhstan's bruising forward pack.
The representative side did not manage to beat Kazakhstan in their previous guise as the Arabian Gulf, suffering Asian Five Nations defeats in 2008 then again last year, in their first campaign back in the Top Five after promotion.
Even before the inception of the competition, the Gulf found the Kazakh rolling maul impossible to cope with in a Test played at the old Dubai Exiles ground in 2007.
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However, despite seeing the pool of players from which he can select cut after the break-up of the Gulf at the end of last year, Birtwistle believes his pack is now the strongest it has ever been.
"We are bigger and more mobile, and I would say that the forward pack I have this year is the best I have been a part of in the past three seasons," said the New Zealander, who first took charge of the Gulf for the 2009 Division One campaign.
"[Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka, the UAE's opening opponents] certainly have contrasting styles, but Kazakhstan have one of the better kickers [their full-back Maxim Lifontov] in the competition.
"They have a lot of experience in their forward pack and they are quite one dimensional in terms of the fact they are very direct in attack."
Kazakhstan have some self-inflicted problems to solve ahead of today's game. They will be without two forwards due to suspensions after they were sent off against Hong Kong in their opening match.
Ildar Poplavskiy, the flanker, was dismissed for a butt, and Mikhail Solovyev, a front-rower, was also ordered off for punching and dissent.
"They have a little bit more depth in their side, and I am sure the two guys who are replacing those two guys will be looking to have a big weekend against us," Birtwistle said.