x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Frenchman back in the fold for UAE rugby

Antoine Bertheuil's hard work in training has earned him a call-up to the national seven's side at Shanghai, where fitness levels may make the difference, writes Paul Radley

A change in format for the Shanghai Sevens tournament may benefit the UAE side, above practicing at the Sevens pitch, who are at their highest fitness levels ever for a tournament.
A change in format for the Shanghai Sevens tournament may benefit the UAE side, above practicing at the Sevens pitch, who are at their highest fitness levels ever for a tournament.

Given the commitment Duncan Hall, the UAE performance manager, and his backroom team demand, national-team players here need a good excuse if they are going to put in for leave when a tournament is on.

Luckily for Antoine Bertheuil, who has been handed his first call-up for the sevens squad touring China this weekend, he had a valid absence note for Borneo Sevens last time out.

The Frenchman, who works as an area manager in Dubai, missed the first leg of the Asian Sevens Series at the start of this month.

He was off getting married.

"My excuse was that I was getting married in France exactly one week before Borneo, and I couldn't make it back in time," he said. "I am a very happy man. Things are a bit hectic at the moment, but we are happy."

Bertheuil, who was a regular at national-team training sessions long before he had completed his three-year residency making him eligible for selection, remains highly regarded by the management team.

He debuted for the senior XVs side in the final Asian Five Nations match in South Korea in May, and is regarded as an integral part of the side in the abridged format, too.

"Even though he wasn't eligible, he wanted to be involved back then," said Wayne Marsters, the UAE sevens coach, recalling training one year ago.

"He was involved in the A5N, did very well and earned a start against Korea.

"He is a very good link player, always keeps the ball alive and looks for the pass, which is important in sevens."

For the seven months that he has been an international rugby player, Bertheuil has officially been without a domestic team to play for.

This time last year he was a member of Dubai Frogs, a club which folded halfway through last season.

He hopes to play for Dubai Hurricanes in the coming campaign, which starts next weekend.

It is unclear whether the late, unforeseen change of the format for today's Shanghai Sevens will have a discernible effect on the workload on the players.

If it does add to the aerobic burden in a format that is notoriously hard work anyway, then the UAE should be able to cope, having travelled to China with one of the fittest sides the national team has assembled to date.

Three Abu Dhabi Harlequins players topped the "beep test" scores at the most recent fitness tests, under the guidance of Murray Pedersen, the new strength and conditioning coach. Pat Hegarty, whose aerobic fitness statistics are "off the chart" according to Marsters, reached 13.7 in the test, ahead of his club-mates Imad Reyal and Renier Els, the UAE captain.

pradley@thenational.ae

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