x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Departing Birtwistle includes four Emiratis in clash with Hong Kong

The rugby coach doubles the number of UAE nationals in his 26-man squad for the final match in this year's Asian Five Nations.

Ali Mohammed is joined by Cyrus Homayoun, Mohanned Shaker and Abdullah Ahmed in the squad for the UAE's final Asian Five Nations match against Hong Kong on Saturday.
Ali Mohammed is joined by Cyrus Homayoun, Mohanned Shaker and Abdullah Ahmed in the squad for the UAE's final Asian Five Nations match against Hong Kong on Saturday.

DUBAI // Bruce Birtwistle has taken another step to ensuring he will leave a lasting legacy following his spell in charge of the national side after naming four Emiratis in the squad for his final match on Saturday.

The New Zealander will step down from his role as coach after the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top 5 match in Hong Kong on Saturday and could bow out having established the UAE as the best amateur side in Asian rugby. Yet with second place behind Japan at stake, Birtwistle has had no qualms over doubling the number of Emiratis in the 26-man squad for the game at Hong Kong Football Club.

Cyrus Homayoun and Ali Mohammed retain their places in the squad, Mohanned Shaker, who was an unused replacement in the first game against Sri Lanka, returns while Abdullah Ahmed, the Dubai Wasps flyer, has gotten his first call-up.

Abdullah caught the eye on his last appearance on the big stage, scoring a try for Dubai Wasps in the curtain-raiser match at Emirates Palace prior to the Harlequins v London Wasps LV= Cup match in January.

The UAE are smarting, according to the chief executive of the Rugby Association, following their 111-0 mauling at the hands of Japan last week.

"The team is certainly charged after last week's performance (against Japan) and are looking toward a big away performance to finish off the season," Ian Bremner said.

"For UAE Rugby, this match is undoubtedly the most important in this year's Top 5 division. We expect to see a more level playing field in our pairing against Hong Kong and we know that they are a side who is on the up."

Birtwistle has made seven changes to the squad, three of which are unforced because of the unavailability of Dan Boatwright, Andrew Millar and Stephan Imbert. The most notable switches see Stuart Quinn return at scrum-half and Steve Smith given his chance on the wing.

"The team is fired up and are focused on walking away with a win which will see us take second place in this year's series, as well as recognise us as the best amateur team in Asia," Birtwistle said.

"Hong Kong have improved noticeably over the past year, in fact they outscored Japan in the second half despite their loss"

UAE Squad for Hong Kong

1. Chris Jones Griffiths – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

2. David Vittes – Dubai Exiles

3. Mike Riley (Munib Haddad) – Dubai Exiles

3. Simon Osbourne – Dubai Hurricanes

5. Mike Cox-Hill – Dubai Exiles (C)

6. Renier Els – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

7. Jamie Clarke – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

8. Carl Von Rosenveldt – Dubai Exiles

9. Stuart Quinn – Dubai Exiles

10. Jonathan Grady – Dubai Dragons

11. Steve Smith – Dubai Hurricanes

12. Duncan Murray – Dubai Hurricanes

13. John Beeton – Dubai Exiles

14. Sean Hurley – Dubai Dragons

15. Tim Fletcher – Dubai Dragons

16. Dan Heal – Dubai Dragons

17. Mohanned Shaker – Dubai Wasps

18. Phillip Stevens – Dubai Exiles

19. Lloyd Budd – Dubai Exiles

20. David Clouston – Dubai Hurricanes

21. Michael Hartley – Abu Dhabi Harlequins

22. Ali Mohammed – Dubai Wasps

23. Scott Kerr – Dubai Dragons

24. Cyrus Homayoun – Dubai Dragons

25. Chris Deacon – Dubai Exiles

26. Abdulla Ahmed – Dubai Wasps

* With agency