x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Bruce Birtwistle goes for experience of Mike Riley up front

UAE prepare for their first Asian Five Nations match on home soil against Kazakhstan on Friday.

Mike Riley is a new addition to the squad.
Mike Riley is a new addition to the squad.

DUBAI // Bruce Birtwistle, the UAE coach, has moved to counter the threat of Kazakhstan's tough forward pack by summoning Mike Riley, the Dubai Exiles prop, into the squad for tomorrow's Asian Five Nations match.

The strength of the Kazakhs' scrum, allied to the goalkicking expertise of their full-back Maxim Lifontov, has traditionally been their main attacking weapon.

Riley was a mainstay of the Arabian Gulf side in recent years, but was overlooked for the UAE's tournament opener in Sri Lanka on Saturday.

Both starting props from that day, Chris Jones Griffiths and Dan Boatwright, have been retained in the 22-man squad, but Birtwistle has sought the experience of Riley in place of Mohannad Shaker, the Emirati newcomer, who was an unused replacement.

The Canadian's experience could be valuable in more than just his ability as a prop. Kazakhstan's reputation as a fiery side was reinforced at the weekend when they had two players sent off - one for a butt, the other for a punch - in their home defeat to Hong Kong.

As a former head of security for Oscar de la Hoya, the champion boxer, Riley is likely to thrive in what Birtwistle expects to be a "ding-dong battle" in Abu Dhabi.

"We are confident we can build on [the draw against Sri Lanka] and deliver a positive result against Kazakhstan," Birtwistle said.

In the only other change to the squad, Cyrus Homayoun, the Emirati three-quarter from the Dubai Dragons, replaces Stephan Imbert of the Dubai Frogs.

pradley@thenational.ae