x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Emirates team given reality check at Shanghai Sevens

The three-tournament Asian Sevens Series will determine whether UAE can play at the Dubai Sevens in December.

The UAE and Chris Gregory, centre, lost to Chinese Taipei in the Bowl final of the Shanghai Sevens tournament.
The UAE and Chris Gregory, centre, lost to Chinese Taipei in the Bowl final of the Shanghai Sevens tournament.

Tim Fletcher, the captain of the new UAE national sevens team, acknowledged that his young side need to improve by as much as 40 per cent if they are going to make an impression on the Asian Sevens Series, and safeguard their place at December's Dubai Rugby Sevens.

The Emirates side celebrated a maiden victory on their first competitive rugby tour yesterday, when they beat Sri Lanka in the semi-final of the Bowl competition at the Shanghai Sevens.

However, it was a small note of cheer in an otherwise tough baptism. They had lost both pool matches against Korea, the eventual Cup winners, and Philippines on the opening day, then lost out to Chinese Taipei 17-7 in the Bowl final.

Fletcher said it provided an important reality check for his side, who need to improve by the time they travel to Borneo for the second leg of the Asia series next month.

However, Fletcher, who contributed the majority of the UAE's tries in China, believes the return of a group of key players could be the spark needed ahead of that competition.

"We know where we are at now, and we probably need to improve by 30 or 40 per cent rather than 10 or 15, but I think that is within us if we knuckle down and train hard," Fletcher said.

"Now we know the standard of where we need to be. We are hoping to get our 100 per cent squad back, with three or four important players coming back. We want to finish in the top five in Borneo."

The International Rugby Board (IRB) are using the three-tournament Asian Sevens Series to assess whether the UAE will be fit to compete in the World Series tournament, against the leading sides in the abridged version, in Dubai later this year.

Home representation, in the form of the Arabian Gulf side, at a Dubai Rugby Sevens weekend, which represents one of the highlights of the UAE's sporting calendar, had been a given up until the end of last year. However, when the Gulf union was disbanded, the UAE were told they had to prove they were worthy of playing in the competition, at least until the new association - the UAE Rugby Association - earns full membership of the IRB.

Sean Hurley, a long-serving player who was a frustrated spectator as the team manager in China, said the new side will be better for their experience in Shanghai.

"Rugby sevens is about sticking together as a unit, and playing lots of matches together," Hurley, the Dubai Dragons wing, said.

"A lot of the players have come from 15s thinking. Even if they are new to UAE representative rugby, they have still been doing 15s pre-season training with their clubs, so it is about changing that mindset."

pradley@thenational.ae