x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Friends have the benefits in the Cup of Nations

UAE and Hong Kong created the event together, but one has pospered more, writes Paul Radley.

Hong Kong, in red, defeated the UAE side 51-6 on Tuesday at The Sevens stadium. Mike Young / The National
Hong Kong, in red, defeated the UAE side 51-6 on Tuesday at The Sevens stadium. Mike Young / The National

Considering the Cup of Nations was originally jointly conceived by the UAE and Hong Kong, it seems the benefits of it are being unfairly divided at present.

The Asian rivals came up with idea of the year-ending tournament last year, as a way to provide more competitive international action for their players. Thus, it was hoped, each might start to close the gap on the continent's one rugby super-power, Japan.

The key word in all that is "competitive".

In the five matches the UAE have played to date in the Cup of Nations, the most competitive the national team have been was in Tuesday's 51-6 loss to Hong Kong. So not very, then.

Wounded psychologically and physically by last year's exertions in this event, many senior players have opted to stay away this time around. So where are the benefits?

Hong Kong, meanwhile, have been able to rest some of their leading players - with a view to bigger tests on the world sevens series later this season - and still thrive here. Asia's No 2 ranked side will attempt to defend their title against Belgium at The Sevens this evening, knowing it will be tough as they have to bridge a gap of five places in the world rankings.

The UAE have found in excess of 60 places in the standings separating them from their nearest rivals in this tournament. No wonder they have found it tough.

It is galling to see how far Hong Kong have stretched their advantage in recent times. Back in 2010, the Arabian Gulf actually beat them in a match in Bahrain.

It was a result which played a large part in meaning the UAE would enter competitive life at the top level of Asian rugby - exactly where the Gulf had left it. It was also a result for which they have been paying ever since in matches between them and Hong Kong.

"That [defeat to the Gulf in Bahrain] is still in the back of our minds," Tom McColl, Hong Kong's captain, said this week. "We know they can lift their game against Hong Kong and we certainly have to lift our game against them."

If Hong Kong are to maintain their 100 per cent record in this competition, and keep their hands on the cup, they will have to counter a strong Belgian forward-pack this evening.

"We did a lot of defence [practice] before this tournament in anticipation for that, and we are expecting it to be a tough game," McColl said.


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