x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Fly-half Andy Russell's UAE debut has been a long time coming

The UAE will have the highly-rated new fly half available when they kick off the Asian Five Nations against Hong Kong.

Andy Russell in training at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence. Mike Young / The National
Andy Russell in training at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence. Mike Young / The National

DUBAI // The UAE will begin the Asian Five Nations tomorrow buoyed by the fact at least one of their highly-rated new fly-halves has been able to extricate himself from other commitments to play against Hong Kong.

Andy Russell missed much of the recent domestic season as Friday afternoon fixtures clash with the busy period for his day job as a cricket coach.

With an 8pm kick-off, however, the Jebel Ali Dragons playmaker has been able to absent himself from his duties at the ICC Global Cricket Academy in Dubai for the encounter with Asia's No 2 ranked side.

Russell's Five Nations debut has been a long time coming. He has been one of the outstanding players on the domestic circuit in the three-and-a-half years since he moved here from his native South Africa.

Ironically, he would probably not have been granted the No 10 shirt for this fixture, though, as Murray Strang, the other newly-eligible fly-half of enviable pedigree, is unavailable for personal reasons.

The representative team have rarely known such strength in depth at fly-half. The crucial position has perennially been a problem without an answer, with players who would prefer to play almost anywhere else in the backline often being asked to fill the breach.

"Murray and Andy play very different games, but both are just quality rugby players who you would want to have in any team you were a part of," Alistair Thompson, the UAE captain, said.

"Andy brings a lot to the game. He has been working hard with the rest of the backline and hopefully that will come to fruition on Friday night."

With Patrick Hegarty providing the ammunition for Russell from scrum-half, the UAE are not short on firepower at the back.

They are a wholly different side from that which subsided to a landslide defeat to the same opposition in the Emirates Cup of Nations at the end of last year.

Given the substantial turnover of players since then, the new look national team has had to meld together quickly, by way of warm up matches against Tunisia and the Gulf Barbarians.

"It was important to put the players into real life competitive situations in the lead up to the Hong Kong match" Duncan Hall, the UAE coach, said.

"We are a different side now to what we were when we faced Tunisia [three weeks ago], and while we expect tough competition we intend to make [Hong Kong] work for it and take the game to them."

Leigh Jones, the Hong Kong senior coach, insists the two thrashings they meted out to the UAE in 2011 will be quickly forgotten tomorrow.

"We are very respectful and very mindful of the danger of being complacent in Dubai," he said.

"Really we are facing a new opponent and a very difficult one on a Friday night, which is a bit unusual for us in terms of Test match timings.

"But as a team we are looking forward to the challenge."

pradley@thenational.ae

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